Azam Khan has opened up on the “heartbreaking” decision made by Pakistan to leave him out of their T20 World Cup squad at the last minute.
Azam was initially named in his country’s 15-man squad for the global event, but was replaced by fellow wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed following a fallow campaign in the National T20 Cup, Pakistan’s domestic T20 competition. The 23-year-old made 150 runs in nine innings for Southern Punjab, averaging 16.62 with a strike-rate of 133.92.
“It was quite sad for me, but life goes on,” he told the Cricket Badger Podcast. “I think it’s not the last [chance to play at a] World Cup. The hunger is still there and I’m looking forward to the next World Cup. [I’m] working hard to maintain my place in the team but it’s all about looking at yourself in the mirror and asking who you are and what are you doing. It’s all about judging yourself first. But it was quite painful not to get into the final 15, even though I was initially selected before, but it happened at the last moment which was quite heart-breaking.”
The clinical nature of the decision should at least help to cool the accusations of nepotism that are sometimes held against Azam. His father, Moin Khan, is a figure of influence in Pakistan cricket, a member of the 1992 World Cup winning side, and also a former Pakistan chief selector.
Azam said that his father has been his biggest inspiration, but pointed to the existence of “certain performance criteria” for selection as evidence that there could be no favouritism at play.
“Whenever I talk to him, he always says he won the 1992 World Cup, what have you done in your life? And I’m like, ‘I’ve only just started my career right now!’” Azam said. “But it’s nice to talk to him because I learn a lot from him, especially about life and cricket. He has made so many comebacks for the Pakistani cricket team and he tells me every day and he tells me it’s all about the hard work. I’m his son and I can’t remove that tag from myself but I’m proud of it.
“I’m the son of a legendary cricketer, but the people think that I got into the team because of my dad, it’s wrong, there’s certain performance criteria. I’m working harder now to try and maintain my place in the team because it’s easy to play international cricket but if you want to stay there you must work every single day.”
Azam identified red-ball cricket as one of the areas he wanted to improve on, and said that playing Test cricket was a goal of his.
“I think red-ball cricket teaches you a lot about the real game, how you draft your innings, how can you finish the game. So I think it’s very important. If you’re representing your country at the highest level, and at the highest level of cricket, it’s the best feeling in the world but right now I have to work more hard. I have to get runs at first class level to get my name over there but I’m looking forward to playing against the red ball. Test cricket and first-class cricket isn’t just about blocking the ball and leaving the ball, cricket is all about scoring runs.
Azam also spoke about his weight and was asked if it hurt him when he was mocked for his size.
“I think it does sometimes but now I’m like, ‘Let It be, whoever wants to talk they can talk behind my back. I’m just going to work on myself.’ It’s a slow process, there can’t be a miracle working on it. I’ve been given a fitness coach. It’s sad that people judge you on your body but it gives me more motivation to be better every day.”