I'd like to say a big thank you to Afaq Raheem for doing the interview and to Cricistani Abdul Qadoos aka nagyal for putting us in touch with Afaq Raheem. Abdul Qadoos looked after Afaq when he was over in England playing for the Rotherham Town in the Yorkshire League.
The interview took place a couple of weeks ago in Mirpur Stadium during a practise session for Afaq's club team the Eagle Stars of Azad Kashmir. We waited to publish the interview till after the Sri Lankan squad was announced so that we could call Afaq back and get his thoughts on his selection, if he did get selected. Alhamdulillah he did get selected and now Afaq's thoughts on his selection are also part of this interview.
This was my first attempt at an interview, so I was a little nervous but (Masha Allah) Afaq is a very down to earth guy and very easy to talk to. I was all set to ask him the questions in our native tongue of Pothwari but Afaq said he was happy to conduct the interview in English ...what a relief for me and I've got to say that his English was pretty impressive for someone who has only spent a few years in England!
After the interview was completed he gave me a tour of the stadium and introduced me to his mentor/coach Fahad Akram who has also played in the Pakistan domestic scene and is currently the coach of the Islamabad women's team. I also met the chairman of the Azad Kashmir cricket association, Nasir Mehmood Butt, whom I had a long chat with about the programmes in place to help move cricket forward in Azad Kashmir. He even treated me to a coconut milkshake at the famous Malik juice centre.
All in all it was a fantastic experience. I hope you all enjoy reading the interview and Insha Allah it's the first of many for me! Here is the interview...
Cricistan.Com: Can you tell me a bit more about yourself, for example, when did you start playing cricket?
Afaq Raheem: I started playing first class cricket in 2003 for the Rawalpindi region. Before that I used to play for my club team Eagle Stars in Azad Kashmir. I've also played for Service Industries and Islamabad Leopards too.
Cricistan.Com: Did you watch cricket whilst growing up and if you did, which games left a real impression on you?
Afaq Raheem: I was a very keen follower of cricket whilst growing up and the game that stands out for me is of course the 1992 World Cup final.
Cricistan.Com: Who was your favourite cricketer and the player that you most wanted to play like?
Afaq Raheem: Saeed Anwar was always my role model, I used to love watching him bat when I was younger. The best innings that I have ever seen was Saeed Anwar's 194 against India.
Cricistan.Com: And who is your favourite non-Pakistani player?
Afaq Raheem: My favourite non-Pakistani player is Sachin Tendulkar from India. I just love watching him play. The best think about him is that he is equally as comfortable off both feet. It doesn't matter if he's playing off his front foot or his back foot, he never looks like he's in trouble. It's something for us all to aspire to.
Cricistan.Com: Has anyone from your family played cricket professionally before?
Afaq Raheem: No, I'm the only person from my family who's played cricket professionally. The main reason for that is due to the fact that cricket only started getting promoted in Azad Kashmir during the last 12 years. Before that there was no promotion and so hardly any interest.
Cricistan.Com: Did your family encourage you to play cricket from an early age and who has had the biggest influence on your cricketing life?
Afaq Raheem: I got a lot of support from both my parents but my father was especially supportive of my dream to play cricket. My uncle and aunty were always encouraging and supported me strongly. The biggest influence on my professional cricketing career was Sabih Azhar who was my coach at Rawalpindi. He really helped and supported me a lot.
Cricistan.Com: When did you realise that you had the potential to become a first class cricketer?
Afaq Raheem: I first thought it was possible when I was playing club cricket with Eagle Stars in Azad Kashmir. Then I was chosen to represent Pakistan u19s as well. I've also played for the Pakistan Academy team in Bangladesh and in Sri Lanka as well.
Cricistan.Com: Are you the first player from Azad Kashmir to play first class cricket?
Afaq Raheem: No, I'm not. Mir Usman was the first player from Azad Kashmir who played first class cricket in Pakistan. Fahad Akram is another player who has played first class cricket and he's now a Level 2 coach. Currently he's coaching the Islamabad women's team. Saad Altaf plays first class cricket right now and he's also from Azad Kashmir too.
Cricistan.Com: You made your first class debut playing for the Rawalpindi region in the Quaid-E-Azam trophy back in 2003/04. Describe the feeling you had walking out in to the middle?
Afaq Raheem: My first game was against Lahore at the LCC and I felt very happy and proud to have made it that far. Sabih Azhar supported me and looked after me from the time when I was an u19 player and he has instilled a lot of confidence in me. I was fine whilst padding up but when I started walking out to the middle, that's when the nerves kicked in. But the jitters didn't last for long, after a few balls I settled down and in the end I think I played quite well in my debut game.
Cricistan.Com: Describe the feeling of hitting your first century?
Afaq Raheem: My first century came in the regional division games. It took me a few games to reach that landmark so when I finally scored that century it was a very proud moment for me and one I'll never forget.
Cricistan.Com: Have you ever played league cricket in the UK? If you have then who did you play for and what's the standard of bowling like over there?
Afaq Raheem: I played twice for Rotherham Town in the Yorkshire League and once in the Bradford League. I really enjoyed my time playing league cricket and they do have some good bowlers playing for those clubs. When I was there two England bowlers, Ajmal Shahzad and Adil Rashid, were playing in the league as well.
Cricistan.Com: What is the standard like compared to Pakistan?
Afaq Raheem: They have a much more professional setup for their players in England but we have a lot more talented players here in Pakistan.
Cricistan.Com: As a batsman did you find league cricket easier or tougher than playing in Pakistan?
Afaq Raheem: It was harder to score in England, the wickets in English league cricket are very tough when compared to Pakistani pitches. On Pakistani pitches it's easy for us to score fast but English pitches give a lot of assistance to the seamers so you need good concentration skills to succeed. You regularly play on green tops in wet conditions, so in my opinion it's a great experience for young up and coming players to take back to Pakistan with them. It's especially helpful to improve a batsman's temperament because you really can't afford to lose your concentration.
Cricistan.Com: You said you played for Rotherham Town in the Oxford Yorkshire Premier League for a few years. Tell us a bit about your experience.
Afaq Raheem: The people were very friendly and they looked after me really well whilst I was there. I played for two years and really enjoyed the experience. In both seasons I scored over 1,000 runs each time and I like to think that I left a very good impression on them and that they were happy with both my performance and my attitude whilst I was there.
Cricistan.Com: Any particular game that you remember?
Afaq Raheem: The one that really stands out was when I scored a century against Ajmal Shahzad and Adil Rashid, I felt really good about my batting that day. I know Adil Rashid and his family so it's always good to meet up with him and it was nice to get to know Ajmal as well. They were both very complimentary about my batting and my technique which is always nice to hear.
Cricistan.Com: Lots of people feel you have been doing well in domestic cricket and that you've been consistent throughout your whole career. You have a very good first class and one day record. Many feel that you could be one half of the solution to Pakistan's unstable opening batsman position. Do you think you can be successful where many others have failed?
Afaq Raheem: Yes I think I can, mainly because I feel that I have the correct technique to succeed at the highest level. The two things that coaches and other cricketers keep praising me about are my technique and my temperament. These are the two qualities that every opening batsman needs to succeed at any level. Even beyond that, I have been very consistent on the domestic front for years and only last season I scored 1400 runs in first class cricket. All I can ask for is a chance to show what I can do, that's the one thing that's not in my control. Once I get that chance then it's down to me to show what I can do.
Cricistan.Com: You were playing really well between 2005 and 2009. You were averaging over 50 for a couple of seasons and you even hit your highest score of 275. Things were looking really good but then there is a break in your resume between 2009 and 2011. What was the reason you did not play during this period?
Afaq Raheem: Unfortunately I suffered a serious injury to my knee which kept me out of the game for 2 years. In fact it couldn't have happened at a worst time because not only was I in the best batting form of my life but I had even received a central contract. Getting the central contract was great for my own confidence because it was proof that the selectors had noticed me and were ready to give me a chance. Sadly the injury put my progress back a long way and it meant that once I returned, I had to get myself noticed all over again.
Cricistan.Com: What kept you motivated during the time you were out injured?
Afaq Raheem: The thought that one day I might get to play for Pakistan was what kept me going. I used it as my motivation and it helped me keep going even when things seemed really difficult. Although I couldn't play cricket, I was determined not to let my fitness suffer during my time off. So to keep my fitness up, I visited the gym 3 times a week. I actually tried to make a comeback before I was ready and I only ended up aggravating the same injury in my comeback match and as a result I had to stay out of the game longer than was originally predicted.
Cricistan.Com: You were the leading run scorer in last years Quaid-E-Azam trophy. Do you think that you are back to your best form?
Afaq Raheem: Yes, this was my first full season since I returned from my injury. I started off really well by scoring a century against PIA and then I built the rest of the season on that innings.
Cricistan.Com: Not only are you a batsman but you occasionally bowl too? Are you an all-rounder or only a batsman?
Afaq Raheem: Yes I do bowl a bit of off-spin but I haven't bowled much for my current team because the pitches in Islamabad are more suited to fast bowling. I'd say that I was a batting all-rounder, I do bowl but I'm a batsman first.
Cricistan.Com: Do you have any famous scalps?
Afaq Raheem: I once took 6 wickets in an innings against National Bank. The batsmen included Nasir Jamshed, Khurram Manzoor, Kamran Akmal and Aqeel Anjum
Cricistan.Com: Tell us a little bit about the structure of cricket in Azad Kashmir?
Afaq Raheem: Cricket in Azad Kashmir is improving day by day. We've set up the Azad Kashmir Cricket Association and Nasir Mehmood Butt has been elected as the President. We now have 52 registered teams in Azad Kashmir and 12 of those clubs are in Mirpur itself. A scheme has been set up to attract the younger generation of Kashmiri cricketers with trials taking place on a regular basis. But for now Azad Kashmir still falls under the Islamabad region.
Cricistan.Com: Do representatives of the PCB regularly pay visits?
Afaq Raheem: Yes, they come to visit every couple of months. The main stadium in Mirpur now falls under the PCB so their representatives come down to watch games now and again. Around 3 to 4 years ago first class matches were being played here but that stopped due to the state of the pitch.
Cricistan.Com: Why do you think that no player from Azad Kashmir has represented Pakistan?
Afaq Raheem: I think it's down to cricket starting really late here. People used to play cricket but there was no set up for them to progress further. Now that Azad Kashmir falls under the Islamabad region, players have much more of a chance to play domestic cricket which will give them a better chance to play for the national team.
Cricistan.Com: Are you aware of any sort of cricket being played in occupied Kashmir and have there ever been any cricket games between the two Kashmir regions?
Afaq Raheem: As far as I'm aware I don't think there's been any games played there, it's too dangerous. Nor have I ever heard of any games taking place between the two Kashmir regions.
Cricistan.Com: Are there any bowlers that really impressed you in first class cricket?
Afaq Raheem: I was a big fan of Mohammed Asif, he was a fantastic bowler. At the moment Saad Altaf is very impressive with his quick arm action. He has taken over 60 wickets in the last two seasons.
Cricistan.Com: Is there any particular bowler that has caused you more problems than others?
Afaq Raheem: Not really, I have had lean patches in my career but I feel that no particular bowler has got the best of me which I believe is down to my technique.
Cricistan.Com: Any up and coming talented players that you think we should look out for?
Afaq Raheem: Umar Amin is a very talented batsman and Raza Hasan is an excellent bowler, he's really one to look out for.
Cricistan.Com: Any wicketkeepers?
Afaq Raheem: There are two that have impressed me. Naren Anjum of Islamabad and Jamal Anwar from Rawalpindi. These are two excellent keepers
Cricistan.Com: Congratulations on your selection for the Test squad to Sri Lanka, how did you first hear about it?
Afaq Raheem: It was actually my mother who told me, she was watching the TV when the news came on the Geo slider and she called me over to congratulate me. We were both really happy about the news. The first person to call me and congratulate me was Sabih Azhar, he was as happy as me. I'd really like to thank Sabih Azhar, Sheikh Shakeel and my parents for all the support they've given me over the years.
Cricistan.Com: Now that you've been selected, what is your ambition in life?
Afaq Raheem: My first ambition is to debut for my country and then I want to score as many runs as I can. If my runs can help Pakistan win games then that would be a real dream come true.
Cricistan.Com: You played a test match for the Pakistan under 19 team in 2003. That team included the likes of Khalid Latif, Shahid Yousuf and Yasir Arafat. This must have been a very proud moment for you. Tell us a little bit more about this game and how your experience of Sri Lankan conditions may help you in the upcoming Test series.
Afaq Raheem: It was actually the first time I'd left Pakistan and for the first time you leave your country to be an occasion where you will be representing your country was a source of great pride for me. It was the same for all of us, we loved wearing the green shirt. The pitches in Sri Lanka support fast bowlers and spinners and it's hard to score runs on them. The ball often stops when it hits the pitch and you have to be aware of the fact that it may not bounce back at you as fast as it hits the deck. To succeed in Sri Lanka you need to be able to play a gritty innings and be very watchful.
Cricistan.Com: Farveez Mahroof And Chamila Kulasekara both played in that game for Sri Lanka and have gone on to represent their national squad. Now you've been selected in the Pakistan squad, how does it feel?
Afaq Raheem: Actually Mahroof was the captain of Sri Lanka's u19 team at that time and they're both good players. I'm feeling good about my own selection, it makes all the hard work at domestic level seem worth the effort.
Cricistan.Com: Some ex cricketers have mentioned your name and have said that you should be given a chance in test matches. But your one day record is excellent, you are averaging 46 with a strike rate of 83. Do you consider yourself more of a test match player or do you think you can adjust your game according to the situation ie ODI or twenty20.
Afaq Raheem: I love playing in all formats, whether it's Test cricket or limited overs cricket. For me it's all cricket and I love playing cricket. My coaches have always told me that the way I play, I can do well in any format and I'd love to have the opportunity to prove that. I believe that I can adjust my batting style to suit the situation whatever format of the game I'm playing in.
Cricistan.Com: If I was the chief selector of Pakistan, what would you tell me to convince me that you can play limited overs cricket as well?
Afaq Raheem: I'd talk about my domestic one day record and my ability to adapt my batting to any situation but first I want to concentrate on playing Test cricket. Right now my job is to repay the selectors faith in me and if I can perform in Test cricket, hopefully they will see fit to give me chances in the other formats too.
Cricistan.Com: Thank you for a candid and detailed interview, best of luck for the future and do you have any message that you'd like to give your fans at Cricistan.Com?
Afaq Raheem: Thank you to all the fans for your support during the hard times and hopefully I can fulfill your expectation in the future too.
An Exclusive Interview with Afaq Raheem
An Exclusive Interview with Afaq Raheem
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