KARACHI: For someone who had to be patient during the Sarfaraz Ahmed era, Mohammad Rizwan expressed on Thursday profound respects for the former Pakistan captain who was the country’s regular wicket-keeper/batsman for almost six years.
Rizwan, now 28, has become the first-choice Test stumper while further cementing his position for next month’s three Tests against England with unbeaten knocks of 54 and 100 in the intra-squad fixture at the County Ground in Derby.
While addressing an online Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) media conference, Rizwan remained as diplomatic as ever when queries related to Sarfaraz were posed to him.
“Look there’s no doubt about the rivalry because in given circumstances one of us can play as the wicket-keeper and invariably whenever I meet you guys, the majority of questions are related to Sarfaraz and myself. But having said that, Alhamdulillah, I have been working extremely hard to consolidate my place [in Test matches] since the tour of Australia last year,” Rizwan said.
“The unfortunate part is that we are both competing for one spot [as per the job description]. This is not the first time Saify [Sarfaraz] Bhai and I are engaged in our own battle. In the past we had a fierce competition between Moin Khan and Rashid Latif. Even then it was just one of them who got the wicket-keeper’s berth in that era.”
Rizwan was gracious in paying tribute to Sarfaraz when he admitted that he held him in high esteem. “I’m a big fan of Saify Bhai from the time I started playing in domestic competitions and learnt a lot from watching him how he played. I never felt bad about being the understudy to Saify Bhai who had not only cemented his place in the tam but became captain as well.
“I draw a lot of inspiration from his performances as the wicket-keeper/batsman and always wanted to emulate him. The few opportunities that came my way allowed me to work in tandem with Saify Bhai during the tours, and there were occasions when both of us played together in the same XI in One-day Internationals.
“Therefore, I never got unduly worried as to when the next chance would come to play at the international level. The healthy competition, in fact, is something I love to be part of because then you know that you have to work on that extra part to be the first-choice [wicket-keeper]. And I’m sure Saify Bhai feels the same too,” Rizwan added.
Rizwan remarked that despite the outbreak of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the Pakistan squad hasn’t wasted time by indulging in comprehensive preparatory sessions.
“As a group we are all striving to gain maximum mileage from the [training] sessions] and everyone is enthusiastically enjoying the rituals of regular prayers. Not only that but the bonding within the squad is amazing and there is no dearth of camaraderie with each other,” Rizwan revealed. “The best thing from my perspective is that Covid-19 to me is a blessing than curse because the lack of social activities has given [us] an opportunity to spend quality time with spiritual studies.
“The players and backroom staff pray in congregation and Saify Bhai has been our regular prayer leader. The training and recreational facilities are quite good contrary to reports in section of the media regarding accommodation related issues. We have no reason to complain from the players’ point of view.”
Rizwan, who has thus far scored 225 runs in six Tests, 705 from 32 ODIs and 185 in 18 Twenty20 Internationals, said the players are thoroughly adopting serious approach during the intra-squad matches and the standard of play has been extremely competitive.
“You, sure enough, need this [sort of preparation] because being confined at home for than three months made it very tough for all players. But Alhamdulillah the group is making concrete efforts in terms of training as best as it can before we head into the Test series,” Rizwan stressed. “There is no substitution for playing and we are fortunate that the period we were forced to spend behind closed doors back home due the Covid-19 situation is over. The practice games have gone very well with a little bit still to go because there are some areas where improvement is required.
“Form-wise, I am happy to get the feel of ball coming sweetly on to the bat against quality bowling. Scoring century is the greatest satisfaction for me regardless of type of cricket you play and I felt in the groove from the onset in both innings.
“As far the bowlers were concerned, the pacemen definitely found it difficult to bowl with the saliva factor missing. But still they got the ball to seam but generally it was tough for them to be effective as far swing was concerned.
“Anyways, I’m looking forward to the England series because my burning desire is to score my first Test hundred [he missed out on that front when he was dismissed for 95 against Australia].” Meanwhile, Pakistan team media manager Raza Rashid has announced the second four-day fixture in Derby from Friday will have first-class status with both outfits — Team White and Team Green — fielding the same 11 players throughout.
Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2020