Shadab Khan is a great all-arounder who is at the top of his game at age 24. The fact that he is Pakistan’s vice-captain when some of his teammates are still getting used to international cricket shows how quickly he has grown on and off the field. Shadab is a national gem because he is a born leader, a powerful batsman, a spin wizard, and a gun fielder.
In a free-flowing interview with Cricadda, he talks about the Pakistan team, their culture, the media, their coach Rehan Ul Haq, their hopes for test cricket, and the MLC.
Along with Rashid Khan, you are probably one of the best T20 cricket players in the world. Do you think that your time away from the IPL has made people less aware of how good you are?
I’m not sure if I’m the best T20 cricket player out there yet, but I want to be. But yes, if a player does well in the IPL, it does add to his fame and status. It is one of the reasons, but as a player, I think that your performance in international cricket is more important, and your performance in international cricket should be recognized.
How do you know Rashid Khan on a personal level? It’s interesting that you both started your careers at the same time and are now at the top of your fields. Do you both look at each other’s games and talk about them?
Yes, we were on the same team at the U19 World Cup. Then he started playing cricket on a world level right away, and I did the same the next year. He is right now the best bowler in the world. When we get together, I do ask him questions. I try to figure out what he thinks about the game because he plays and does well everywhere. I was having trouble in 2020 and early 2021, and since he’s been following me since the beginning of my career, he noticed that my run up to the line wasn’t as intense as it had been in the beginning. I worked on that part, and thankfully, it paid off.
When you joined Islamabad United, Rehan Ul Haq was a big part of how you grew as a player. Tell us about how Rehan has helped you learn more about cricket.
He has been very important. He was like an older brother to me when I was having trouble because he knew a lot about what it was like to be a professional player in Pakistan and what to watch out for. As a young person who is still getting used to life, you need someone you can trust. I haven’t met anyone with as much good energy as he does. We get along well with each other, which is helpful. I want to tell you about an event. Believe it or not, when we lost to Zimbabwe and were almost out of the 2022 T20 World Cup, he sent me a speech that he wanted me to give if I won the Man of the Tournament award. I didn’t understand what that text said. He knew that there was a small chance that we would even get out of the group stage, let alone win the prize and give it to me. But he said he would stay true. And if we had gotten over the last obstacle, I think I wouldn’t have been too far from that prize. He has more faith in me than I have in myself.
Even outside of cricket, he has helped me become the person I am today. We always talk to each other in English because he told us to. It is spoken all over the world and helps you get your message across on big events. I admire how he looks out for everyone, and I try to do the same. Ruman Raees hurt himself while he was playing for us at IU. He couldn’t play for a while because of that. Rehan bhai knew how hard it would be on a cricketer’s finances to be out of action for a couple of seasons, so he offered Rumman the job of bowling coach. Rumman is very smart when it comes to cricket. This is what makes your players want to stick with you.
He is now the Pakistan team’s boss. Tell us about the work he’s done behind the scenes that has helped the team.
Even when Mansoor Rana was there, the mood in the dressing room was good. However, Rehan bhai is young, part of this age, and has a creative side as well. He recently put up pictures of each player in the Karachi dressing room that showed their best moments on the field. Remembering those times makes you want to try to do the same things again.
Under your guidance, Islamabad United has changed the way T20 cricket is played in Pakistan. What’s keeping Pakistan’s white-ball team from changing in this way?
At IU, the rest of the team management and I wanted to make sure that the players were up to date. With this in mind, we chose the best players from outside the country so that our young players could learn from them and not have to change their game much when they played international cricket. As the management, we’re ready to accept mistakes because we know the risks of a high-intensity, high-strike-rate strategy and want to give our players a sense of safety. As for why the Pakistan team hasn’t taken this method, it’s probably because we don’t have enough trophies for everyone to agree on it. We haven’t been winners in a while, so maybe that’s why there isn’t much talk about taking that method.
After that memorable win against India, you almost made it to the final of the T20 WC in 2021. In the T20 WC in 2022, you almost won that final and also made it to the Asia cup finals. But even now, TV ads in Pakistan are mostly about people from the 1990s. Do you think this Pakistan team will be able to move past the team from the 1990s?
What a team has done in the past doesn’t mean as much as how they are playing right now. All of our players play all over the world, so they are now getting the right amount of exposure. After that hard-to-get win against India in the World Cup, things got better. Even when our teams were full of stars, they were never able to do that. We might not have any celebrities on our team, but it’s not a game for one person. It’s a game for the whole team. We play well as a team because we support each other, are happy with each other’s results, and want our brothers to do well. It helps when everyone has good goals and no one wants bad things for the other. We’re not just teammates who will work together on the field and then fade away. We get along so well with each other that we don’t need any new friends.
You are now a leader with a lot of knowledge and smarts. Pakistan was in the lead in the finals, so why are they failing at the most important times on the field? Would you do anything differently if you were in charge?
In pressure games, you have to take charge of those key times if you want to win. We’ve made mistakes in the field at those times. If we had played better cricket in the World Cup final, things might have turned out differently. We have a good team, but if we want to win, we will have to work harder and do more.
Would you do anything differently if you were in charge?
I think about how I can help the team win all the time. I like to be in the lead when things are tough. I’ve been around long enough and believe in myself enough that I can handle them myself. This is important because, in our part of the world, if a young person fails in that position, it can be disastrous for his career. God forbid, if something goes wrong, I can deal with the results after the fact. I know what to do to handle it. The abuse on social media can be hard on kids, so it’s best if I take care of it.
Now that you’ve talked about social media, do you think that some parts of the Pakistani media are too harsh in the way they look at things? It might not change how you and other senior cricketers do your job, but how hard is it for younger players to deal with?
The time of social media has come. As soon as the game is over, you should check social media to see what people are saying about you. I’ve seen a lot of players who can’t keep their minds calm for a while, but they eventually get back to normal. Some players get a hard time on social media and in the news. They don’t realize that it takes 15 years of hard work and blood, sweat, and tears to become a world cricket player. People tend to forget about how hard it was to fix one mistake. Some people can’t get their minds around that. Instead of backing players from other places, our media should back our own. It takes time to turn someone into a player, and there will be a lot of fails along the way. So, the press should back us up.
Pakistan’s two WTC elections have been terrible. After Yasir Shah was kicked out, you were the obvious choice to take his place. You have also shown in test cricket that you can be quite a handful with the bat. It seems like you’re the thing that the Pakistan Test team is missing. Why don’t you play in a Test match? Would you like to go to Australia to play in the Test series? Have you talked to the people who choose?
When I played five Test matches in a row, I thought I was getting into the swing of things. I already said that making a player takes time. I was good at white ball right away, but it takes time to get good at red ball, and I hadn’t even played that many first-class games yet. When I thought I was getting better at red ball cricket, I was cut from the team and then hurt. But I do want to play Test cricket, and I’m ready to play first-class cricket to make a claim. After the World Cup, I’ll be looking at the Test series in Australia as a chance to get back into the Test team.
A lot of noise has been made about how Jonny Bairstow was sent off at the Lord’s match. What do you think about all of this as the vice-captain of the Pakistan white-ball team? If you were the team leader at the time, would you have called back Bairstow?
It all depends on what’s going on. Since we are watching on TV, we probably don’t know what was going on in the field before he came to bat. From what I know, he got out of the crease before the over was called a few times before he was also stopped. If it’s legal and good for your team, you should do it. It was a good move because they were about to lose the game. But I also think the batter should at least be warned. The law should always win, though.
How has Saqlain Mushtaq, who is a world-class spinner, helped you improve your game and open up new opportunities? How does he keep giving you trouble?
In 2021, I wasn’t in shape. That year, I chose not to go to CPL. I went to work with him for a week at the National High Performance Center. Working with him changed my mind so much that I started to think I was the best bowler around. A week earlier, I was very confused and lacked faith. Then, when he became the head coach, it was a huge help to our spinners. Both Nawaz and I have learned a lot from him in terms of tactics and skills.
You were a T20 celebrity who went all over the world. You have never played in America before. What have the owners and the company said about you so far?
The welcome has been very friendly. It’s great to see so many people from South Asia living here. We had a get-to-know-you event and a coaching practice in San Francisco, and a lot of people came. I think it will be the same in Dallas, and I hope people will come to watch us play.