Shan Masood is a first-class cricketer from Karachi. He is currently enrolled at the Loughborough University in Leicestershire, UK. A left-handed opening batsman, Shan ranks among the emerging players of Pakistan. He has represented Pakistan at the Under-15 and Under-19 level and most recently, he has been a part of Pakistan’s ‘A’ team. On the domestic circuit, Shan has represented HBL for three successive seasons, bringing him under the radar of the national selectors. Here, he shares with Dawn.com’s readers the ups and downs of being a professional, first-class cricketer in Pakistan.
With the onset of the Domestic First Class Season coinciding with that of my University, I’ve had quite a bit on my plate recently in regards to working on my game plus my academic schedule. Yet the positive response garnered from my first piece has encouraged me to write a second.
After the heartache suffered by our young guns in the U19 world cup, we switch our focus to the T20 World Cup as the nation gets enveloped in a cricket frenzy. There has been some talk off late about the youth in Pakistan cricket and their development in regards to making the national team. Keeping that in mind, I am going to discuss how a young cricketer makes his journey from the U19 setup to the biggest stage.
Very rarely does a cricketer transition from the youth level to the national team without the vital platform provided by the U-19 team. Even the biggest stars of the game such as Alaistair Cook, Michael Clarke, Hashim Amla, have represented their country at an U19 World Cup. Our own list of graduates includes Nasir Jamshed, Imran Nazir, Kamran Akmal, Umar Akmal, Abdur Razzaq, Umar Gul, and Shoaib Malik to name a few. However, it would be a mistake to consider the U19 ticket as a guarantee for top flight cricket or even a direct step to make it to the national team. Much hard work lies ahead. In fact, the only player in recent memory to make the direct jump was Hammad Azam.
Followers of the game will be wondering what lies ahead for the promising individuals after this year’s World Cup. It’s a scenario I was faced with after the conclusion of the U19 World Cup in 2008. My teammates and I all faced the same questions. Who will we play first class for? Will we be able to make the jump up to the senior team? We weren’t just competing with our own age group anymore. We were going to be competing with the best Pakistan had to offer.
Whereas I chose a different path of going to boarding school in England to complete my A-levels, my teammates went on to play first-class cricket and today, six of them, Umar Akmal, Ahmad Shehzad, Umar Amin, Mohammad Amir, Umar Amin and Usman Salahuddin, have already represented the national team.
However, despite missing out on the momentum the U19 stage provides, I have no regrets about skipping that year. Hopefully, my destination will be the same albeit at a later date. That one year proved invaluable as I managed to get straight A’s, gain admission into one of the top universities in the UK and crucially equip my game to perform in foreign conditions which I hope will help me in the future. My school provided me a stage to achieve the rare feat of being an educated Pakistani cricketer. School cricket in England is a big deal and my performances earned me recognition in the Wisden Book of 2009 as the top ‘Schoolboy batsman’ which was matched up to that of stars such as Nasser Hussain and Alaistair Cook.
However, my return to Pakistan brought with it the harsh reality of the difference a year out can make. Not only was the impetus provided by the U19 stage lost, I was a forgotten name. I had to grind it out and it took me seven matches on the bench before I was handed my debut for HBL, and it took a match saving 70 in hostile conditions against SNGPL to prove to not only others but myself that I belonged there . Even after that, it took two solid seasons to get a Pakistan ‘A’ cap, following which impressive performances in the finals of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and the One-Day Cup earned me more ‘A’ team caps and recognition. Recently with another season of almost a 1000 runs under my belt, I've been under the selectors radar for some time.
The journey’s been tough, but it’s tougher for some of the others. Some fail to get games after the U19 level and fade into the abyss. Far too often, players with promise become just a memory as they fail to make the step up to the senior level. However, it is not something restricted to Pakistan, it’s prevalent in all the cricket nations. It would be wrong to criticize us for not giving a chance to enough U19 players. People often point to Virat Kohli as an example of India providing its youngsters with chances. I’d like to remind everyone that Kohli played in the same World Cup as I did and only two from his Indian team went on to play for the national team, whereas six of our own made the step up. In fact from the last 5 world cups, 31 Pakistan U19 players have gone on to play for the national team which is more than any other test playing nation.
Recently, there has been a greater number of U19 players going on to represent their respective countries, benefiting from television coverage of the world cups and the increasing number of ‘A’ team cricket. The ‘A’ team provides for smooth transition from the U19s to one of the senior team. Hopefully, the PCB will arrange for more of these ‘A’ tours on a regular basis as it helps to nurture our talent at an international stage.
Hence, we can conclude the U19 provides a stepping stone for a cricketer but it’s not a straight path from there. Many twists and turns engulf the path ahead and it takes a lot of hard work and performances in First Class to avoid becoming lost in a sea of players and get the nod for Pakistan. But the benefits of U19 cricket are evident as you tour different countries, play in different conditions and get a taste of what’s waiting for you if you work hard enough to represent the national team.
I've got a long first class season ahead of me which I also consider to be the most important one in my career. Hopefully, some good performances can bring me closer to my dream.
I’ll make sure to write while on tour but until then take care and Allah Hafiz.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.