Exclusive: Our goal is to be the best team in the world, says Mohammad Rizwan

The opener and wicketkeeper is now the No.1 batsman in Twenty20 Internationals, displacing his fellow opener and skipper Babar Azam



Pakistan's Mohammad Rizwan. — AFP
Pakistan's Mohammad Rizwan. — AFP

By Shahid Hashmi

Published: Fri 9 Sep 2022, 12:32 AM

Mohammad Rizwan was frantically walking in front of the dressing room at Dubai International Cricket Stadium. "This ball, we will win," he murmured with conviction. He was clearly agitated at not being able to finish the Asia Cup Super Four game against India last Sunday.

When he left, Pakistan needed 35 off 19 deliveries. Many believed it had slipped out of Pakistan's hands after Rizwan's fall. True to his belief, Pakistan won by five wickets.

Three days later, Rizwan is crowned as ICC number one batsman in Twenty20 Internationals, displacing his fellow opener and skipper Babar Azam.

Belief is key for Rizwan. It is his forte. He thrives on his strong belief in religion, in the Almighty, in his and his fellow players' hard work.

"I knew the match was in our hands," Rizwan told Khaleej Times. "I wanted to finish the game but got out to a slower one from Hardik (Pandya) but I have that belief that we have Asif (Ali), Khushdil (Shah), Iftikhar (Ahmed) and Shadab (Khan). So, the match was in control. It would have been nice to finish the game, but such things are part and parcel of the game.

“It's our second win against India in less than a year," rejoiced Rizwan. "We are gradually progressing towards our goal — to be the best team in the world. All the players are committed under a good skipper, and we are very united. Our belief is our strength."

Belief in abundance

"I am a firm believer in that Almighty Allah helps those who put their shoulder in the wheel and belief in Almighty and belief in their abilities. We had not beaten India much but now we have beaten them in two games in less than a year. The belief that we can beat any team on our day is great. With that confidence, we will do our best in the Asia Cup final. No doubt, the goal is to win the trophy but all that is in our hands is to work hard, do our best on the ground and results come with that effort."

With Babar Azam in a rut of low scores, Rizwan has atoned for his fellow opener and skipper's failures. With scores of 43, 78 not out and 71, Rizwan topped the batting charts in all three of Pakistan's games in this Asia Cup.

"He is our Mr Belief," Babar told Pakistani media in an interaction on Tuesday. "During the innings break, he was the one who convinced us that we will chase down the 182-run target. He is a different character. His belief in Almighty, in his abilities and in players' abilities is unparalleled. He was in ICU before the semifinal (Twenty20 World Cup last year) and came out from there and played the match."

Belief unparalleled

While the world sings his praises, legendary former Pakistan paceman Wasim Akram is enamoured with Rizwan’s belief and hard work.

"Rizwan is exceptional in his belief and work ethics," Wasim told Khaleej Times. "He thumped into the ground and got jarred but, after treatment, continued to keep wickets and then batted for 17 overs.

“Had there been a feeble-hearted player, he would have left but Rizwan didn't. He is an exceptional athlete and I think he is one of the most determined and passionate cricketers in the world. He is invaluable to the Pakistan team," added Akram.

A wicketkeeper is the engine room of any team as he drives the players from behind the stumps. Rizwan has been that cog in both the roles as 'keeper and a batter.

Ever since he replaced the much-mellowed former captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, Rizwan has been phenomenal.

He has made the wicketkeeper-batsman's spot his own, thriving in all three formats. He was the leading run-getter in Twenty20 Internationals in 2021 with 1326 runs — the only batter ever to score over 1,000 T20 international runs in a year.

Overall, he scored 2036 runs in international and domestic T20 matches, most by any batsman in a 12-month period.

"Almighty has been very kind," said a thankful Rizwan. "I keep belief in my ability and in my team. This is my strong point. If you have belief, then all doors open for you. These records and rankings are always the byproduct of your hard work and belief."

Whether it’s Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje or the battle-hardened veterans James Anderson and Stuart Broad, nobody could scare him.... in fact, he did not know some of the names.

Who cares when there is BELIEF!

Rizwan has that sort of belief. Ignorance is bliss for him. It is usual for him. He stands at the crease with conviction, plays his shots with whatever he knows about batting and the just reward is runs.

"Why bother about something that you cannot control," he asserts. "Whoever is the opponent, whoever is the bowler, I have to believe in my ability. I have that confidence to do well because I have done my hard work. "

Runs have flowed for this simple and passionate guy from Peshawar. In fact, in the last one year, Rizwan has also overshadowed Pakistan's best batsman Babar even in the longer format, where he has been the team's saviour.

Destined to play cricket

Rizwan was destined to play cricket because he believed in his abilities. At home, his father wanted him to study but he eschewed his prying eyes and practiced when the inhabitants of his neighbourhood were sleeping.

When his dusk to dawn practice sessions came to fruition, his father relented as he began to admire his son’s belief and single-mindedness.

Rizwan has surprised everyone with his prolific form. It was worth the wait on the sidelines. Rizwan was not getting an opening as Sarfaraz was skipper of all three formats and doing well.

But Rizwan had been continuously knocking at the door since 2018.

"I knew my time would come," Rizwan quipped. "I was working out of my skin with an aim to get a place in the national team. My time has come, and I want to make the most of it."

And Rizwan rose high and high, true to his words.

Turning point

It was former head coach Misbah-ul-Haq who brought Rizwan in 2019. The confidence in Sarfaraz was lost and Rizwan was made the number one choice. First came the Tests, in November 2019, exactly four years after he played his only Test at Hamilton. That was a forgettable one, dismissed without scoring, off a silly hook shot from Neil Wagner, the habitual short pitcher.

As Pakistan failed valiantly to save the Test — they lost by 138 runs — Rizwan was left stranded on 13 not out.

At Australia's fortress, the Gabba in Brisbane, Rizwan looked like a different batsman. He wasn't awestruck, as he was at Hamilton four years ago, and his 37 featured seven boundaries which proved he was always in command. He followed that up with a fighting 94 after walking in when Pakistan were five down for just 95, fighting to avoid an innings defeat.

Rizwan added 132 with Babar who did go on to complete his hundred, but cruelly, Rizwan fell short.

"That was the turning point in my career," he says.

"Then I was given a chance to open the innings and I had that belief that I would do to the best of my ability, and I did that for my team."

Since his 89 not out in Pakistan's consolation win in New Zealand two years ago, Rizwan has been the team's mainstay in the shortest format. Since that Napier knock, Rizwan has smashed a hundred and all his other five half centuries. He finished as Man of the Series in the T20Is against South Africa at home and second best in the return tour. When Pakistan won the T20Is in Zimbabwe, the main contributions were from Rizwan — 82 not out and 91 not out. Deservedly, he took away Man of the Series laurels. Another reward of being amongst the "Wisden's Five Cricketers of the year" beckoned.

Best moment

His best moment came in the opening game of the Twenty20 World Cup in Dubai. On October 24, 2021, Pakistan won for the first time against India in 13 attempts in the ICC events. Shaheen Shah Afridi bamboozled the Indian top order with wickets of KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma and then returned to account for Virat Kohli. Surprisingly, Pakistan cruised to a 10-wicket win — India's first 10-wicket defeat in T20Is — with 13 balls to spare. Rizwan hit a brilliant 79 not out and Babar remained undefeated on 68.

The scenes after the match were a pleasant surprise for everyone. Indian maestro Virat Kohli sharing a moment with Babar and Rizwan — details of which he doesn't want to share.

"When we meet, we do it in a cordial manner, so we keep it to ourselves," Rizwan played down the hype.

Camaraderie

The same camaraderie was witnessed when Kohli shook hands with Babar ahead of the first Asia Cup encounter on August 28 and then most of the Indian players went to the injured Shaheen to inquire about his health.

"That was phenomenal," remembers Rizwan. "We were superb on the day (after the World Cup win). We had that talk that we must beat India. It was our ambition, and we had that belief that we could do that. We had a solid start through Shaheen's wickets and then things happened for us. There is always the first time, and that first time has given us the belief that we can beat India."

Besides his belief, Rizwan's other strong point is his focus. What he thinks and believes, he attains through his commitment and focus.

"I learnt how to focus from Younis (Khan) bhai. When he was with the team, I used to keep talking to Younis bhai about this. Then we have Fawad (Alam) in our Test team. His focus is remarkable. Then when I played for Sussex alongside Cheteshwar Pujara, I learnt a lot from him chatting a couple of times."

Heading in the right direction

Rizwan believes the young Pakistan team is heading in the right direction.

"We have a young team and players know their responsibilities. Babar and I try our level best to motivate them, so we are heading in the right direction," asserts Rizwan, believing Pakistan have a good chance at next month's Twenty20 World Cup in Australia.

Boxing icon Mohammad Ali once said: "It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen."

Rizwan follows that. Fellow players call him ‘Moulvi’ (prayer leader) and 'Pir’ (spiritual leader).

True to his title, he is Mr BELIEF for this young Pakistan team.

RIZWAN IN NUMBERS:

Tests: 24

Runs: 1232

Highest score: 115 not out

Average: 41.06

Strike rate: 51.16

100s: 2

50s: 7

4s: 142

6s: 4

Catches: 69

Stumpings: 2

ODIs: 49

Runs: 1065

Highest score: 115

Average: 29.58

Strike rate: 86.30

100s: 2

50s: 6

4s: 85

6s: 9

Catches: 43

Stumpings: 1

T20s: 60

Runs: 1874

Highest score: 104 not out

Average: 52.05

Strike rate: 127.83

100s: 1

50s: 15

4s: 168

6s: 53

Catches: 33

Stumpings: 8


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