Wahab Riaz has experienced a series of ups and downs in the last 10 years since he made his Test debut at the Oval. Over the years, he has bowled some breathtaking spells with pace and guile at times, been frustratingly erratic otherwise, promised a lot but could not deliver accordingly, injured himself, axed without good reason, recalled from oblivion with good reason, announced a surprise retirement from Test cricket and now wants to make a comeback.
Riaz narrated about his comeback from Test retirement, “I got a call from PCB asking if I’ll be available to play Test cricket if required on replacement basis or if the team needs it. And I straight away said yes because my priority is to play for Pakistan.”
In all these years, despite some splendid spells of fast bowling, his inability to dominate on a consistent basis was one of the prime reasons he didn’t play as often as his best promised – managing to feature in only 27 Tests, the last of which came against Australia in October 2018. The returns in those weren’t impressive either – with 83 wickets coming at an average of 34.50, striking once in more than 10 overs.
Even as he was recalled to the national side ahead of last year’s World Cup, and performed impressively to justify the selection, he called quits on his Test career later in the year. Not happy with the decision, Waqar Younis lashed out at the pacer and claimed that he had given the team ‘dhokha’ by backing out a couple of weeks ahead of the Australia tour.
Detailing the reason for announcing his retirement last year, Riaz said, “Between 2016 and 2019, I had played only in patches. I played one Test in Sri Lanka and performed well. Next tour, I wasn’t picked and next, I played against Australia [in UAE]. During the tour only I had to return. That was a management decision. I thought maybe I’m not capable or good enough to play Test match cricket for Pakistan anymore. I took the decision then. Before Misbah and Waqar joined the management, I had communicated to the management, because I’m not part of the squad, I’ll give up Test cricket and concentrate on my white-ball cricket. To their credit, they told me not to totally retire and take time off. Now because of the time off, I’m getting a chance to come back for Pakistan. I didn’t take any decision in haste. Priority has always been to play and perform for Pakistan. Now when I’ve been asked, I didn’t think twice before saying yes. Because that’s an opportunity to represent Pakistan. Pakistan has given us a lot, now it is time to pay back for Pakistan. These are such unusual circumstances, Pakistan needed me and I’m there. When I spoke to the board last year about not playing Test cricket anymore, they’d told me to take a time off and think about the decision. Now because this is an opportunity and they enquired about my availability. These are such unusual times where no additional player can fly in or go out [mid tour], as a Pakistan player it is my priority to play for the country. I’ve got this opportunity and I want to avail it fully.”
However, the one year break resulted in him losing out on Pakistan Cricket Board’s central contract. Even as he has missed the opportunity of being on the contract list, he’s optimistic about the future. He said, “I know it is a security for a player that he’ll play for Pakistan. But the ultimate goal is that I represent the country. Unfortunately, I was not part of the contracts. No worries. I’ll hope to perform better for Pakistan and come back next year.”
Even as he has claimed that he is ready for the red-ball game, Riaz is aware that his comeback won’t be easy, especially with several young fast bowlers waiting in the wings for their turn. He said, “Test cricket comeback will be difficult, yes I’ve not played recently. But I’m not here to choose the easy way. Pakistan has a need. Also while it comes to playing, we are professionals, we know how to carry ourselves and how to prepare for a format. For that, I’m ready and will prepare for it, and if required, I’ll play.”
“As for the youngsters, it’s a great opportunity for them. As a group, we have to support them. It won’t be an easy tour for them, we’ll have to back them. Even if they don’t perform, we have to support them because they are the future. I’ve also set an example with a decision, it could even be an example for others that Pakistan is the priority. I can share my experience with the youngsters, I have played a lot of cricket in England,” he added.
Riaz, who had burst on to the scene as a tearaway quick, may have not earned success but remains one of the fastest left-arm operator in the game at the age of 34. However, it has been a journey that hasn’t fully lived up to its potential and the pacer realises that.
“As a player, I’m not satisfied at all, you have to be honest,” he admitted. “The beauty of Pakistan cricket is fast bowlers. We have so many fast bowlers that competing with each other is not easy. You have to be a very consistent performer to play for Pakistan. At times, your form may not be good. Let’s not forget we have been playing in Dubai from 2010-2019, over there we don’t have great support for fast bowlers. Fast bowlers have contributed very little. Yes, I’m not satisfied. But yes, there is still time to leave behind a legacy as long as I’m playing for Pakistan.”
However, he claims to not be bothered by critics and naysayers. “People are with you or against you. That is a motivation for me. That is a thing that pushes me and gets me ready to do well for Pakistan… As a player, performances are in patches. But players also need to be given the confidence to do well. There are good and bad days. I don’t see what people say… but I stick to my process, my work ethics. It’s good there are some people who keep motivating you and remind you of your goals.”