Mohammad Hafeez, who marked his comeback at the age of 39, was excited with his match-winning contribution against Bangladesh in the second T20I and emphasized on the importance of carrying experience with the team. He also suggested that he has learnt over the years that ‘survival’ in the team isn’t possible without performance.
Hafeez, alongside Shoaib Malik, returned to the side after a lengthy gap – during which Pakistan have had a string of poor results. Since January 2018, they hadn’t won a T20I for nearly a year, with their last win before this series coming in February 2019 against South Africa. They lost eight of their nine completed games in the format last year. Their remarkable record – that kept them sitting tightly on top of the rankings – was drawn between January and November 2018, in which they won 17 out of their 18 T20Is.
Hafeez and Malik have both played match-winning knocks this series, and their experience was evident in Pakistan’s balance in batting. There was a severe lack of consensus about bringing back both players, as there was apparently a directive to move on from seniors and invest in younger players.
“It was a superb opportunity for me to represent Pakistan again and contribute in getting Pakistan a winning momentum,” said Hafeez after his unbeaten 67 off 49 balls in the second T20I. “There was one required missing part in the team and that is exactly what I am trying to cover. I am really happy the way Shoaib Malik played a magnificent inning on a difficult situation and pitch and won a game for Pakistan, and that was something to learn from. So today with my innings, I am more than happy to be able to help Pakistan win a game.
“When you make a come back there is a pressure of expectations,” he said. “[…] for 8-9 months I didn’t play international cricket and I didn’t play domestic, because I wanted to let youngsters to play. I quit Test cricket, so there was no point playing four-day cricket. I was focusing more on white-ball cricket. There was a lot going in mind but I kept on backing my experience and my preparations and waiting for the opportunity. I was positive all the way and during the time never let my thought process go negative.”
Before this series, Hafeez last played T20Is in November 2018. Since then, he has featured in various T20 competitions at home and abroad, and his record in that period has been modest: 509 runs in 26 matches at an average of 21.20 and a strike rate of 107.38, and 16 wickets at 33.75, and an economy rate of 7.28. He was left out but he refused to fade away and kept his hope alive for another comeback. He didn’t make a perfect start in the first game, scoring 17 off 16 balls, but his second innings not only gave him the confidence but also gave captain Babar Azam enough to justify his faith in the senior players.
Hafeez suggested that there should be a policy to communicate with the players about their future rather than leaving them out in the wilderness.
“If there is any policy then it should be talked about. I had tried speaking to the higher officials directly, asking if they need me or otherwise,” he said. “I told them that I am happy with my career and satisfied from my services for Pakistan. But if they think that I am no longer required or there isn’t a place for me, then I should distance myself from international circuit and focus on international leagues. But I never got a reply so I was hbeing patient and open and was happy to serve Pakistan again when required.
“My return is being painted as a comeback, which for me was an opportunity to come with a more focused mindset. To me, performances are what help your team to win and I am more excited than ever that my contribution has played a key part, as a match-winning innings similar to Malik the other day. I think communication is very important and if a player is communicated in time then it’s a lot easier [for player to plan his future].”
Banking on his experience, Hafeez talked about the importance of having a player with 17 years in the circuit. His T20 international average 25.21, however, isn’t something Pakistan can rely on. But he is the second leading run-scorer for Pakistan in T20s with 1992 runs.
When asked if this opportunity is was easier for him, playing at home, Hafeez responded sternly: “It’s important to look at the stats. In the last 10 years, I haven’t played in Pakistan. Out of 12,000 International runs, 11,000 were scored outside Pakistan so I never got Pakistani conditions. So I am happy that I have scored in very difficult situations for Pakistan and had a winning contribution, which is nothing less than a proud moment or memory for me.”
“You always take experience alongside. Even when I got out in the first innings with a mistake, sitting outside watching Malik’s innings with the youngsters, I was telling them to observe the winning process, how Malik is playing and his control. You have to learn it and apply it. We have great talent in our country, but there is there is a need for more work on the development of the game. Making players learn that performance for the winning cause is so important – the finishing touch and how to absorb the pressure at international level.
“It does take time. Even we took time to learn. I had shared a dressing room with an example in front of me in Inzamam ul Haq – who scored over 10,000 runs, [Mohammed[ Yousuf, who was scoring a hundred every second or third innings, and Shoaib Akhtar. So we learnt from them and understood that you won’t survive in the team if you don’t produce match-winning contributions.”
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