Wahab Riaz determined to 'prove Mickey Arthur wrong' at World Cup - 5 minutes read
A visibly excited Wahab Riaz said he was raring to go and "prove Mickey Arthur wrong", after being picked against all odds in Pakistan's World Cup squad.
Wahab last played an ODI in June 2017 during Pakistan's Champions Trophy title run, and was not among the 23 World Cup probables selected last month or the 17 men who were in England recently for the ODI series. Back in April 2018, Arthur, the Pakistan coach, had criticised the paceman's "work ethic" and brought up the fact that he had not "won us a game in two years".
He did, however, do well in the Pakistan Cup 50-over tournament this year, picking up ten wickets in five games at an average of 20.70 and an economy of 4.60, as his team Khyber Pakhtunkhwa won the title.
"I can't explain in words the pain I have gone through, but I don't want to live in the past. That's history now," Wahab said at a press conference before leaving for England. "Now it's about what we are going to do in the World Cup. Obviously it's the coach's duty to get the best results from the players, and he wants players that can win matches for the team. I also wanted to be in the team, the only difference is I missed two years of [international] cricket. Now I am in and want to prove him [Arthur] wrong and justify my opportunity.
"I even had dreams I was meeting Mickey Arthur and Sarfaraz Ahmad, and sometimes they would pick me, and reject me at other times"
"You can't say it was unfair [that I was selected]. I kept on hearing that I might be chosen for the Australia series or the one against England, but it didn't work out. It was Allah's will that my selection was meant for the World Cup directly, but I have been praying that whatever happens should happen for good. Being named in the squad and then not being able to perform will be another unfortunate thing as there is a lot of expectation. I hope for the best and want to take this opportunity to move on and perform."
The last two years have seen Pakistan bank on the likes of Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Hassan Ali, Faheem Ashraf and Junaid Khan for their fast-bowling needs, with Wahab overlooked. He even signed with Derbyshire in a bid to reboot his international career, but to no avail. Till now.
"I was extremely disheartened as I was performing for the past two years," he said. "But since I couldn't perform in the Champions Trophy, I had to sit out because you need to do well continuously to be a part of the team. I was trying to push my case for selection by performing wherever I could. I was very disappointed and frustrated too. I felt that I was hard done by, but at the same time the team was doing well. But I never lost hope. Now, I feel I have been rewarded.
"I kept myself fully prepared for this World Cup even knowing that I am nowhere near the team. I even had dreams I was meeting Mickey Arthur and Sarfaraz Ahmad, and sometimes they would pick me, and reject me at other times. Around ten days ago, I had a dream that Inzi bhai [Inzamam-ul-Haq, the chief selector] gave me a call and told me that I have been selected and this is my last chance. It was exactly how it happened when I was called and told about the decision. It is nothing less than make or break for a player who gets an opportunity to play in the World Cup."
One of his direct competitors for a slot in the 15, Junaid Khan, was dropped after being part of the preliminary squad. His made his frustration and anger plain after the event, posting a photograph on social media, later deleted, that depicted him with tape over his mouth.
"Every player wishes to play for Pakistan and the World Cup is the biggest challenge in your career," said Wahab. "Obviously, he will be saddened and very frustrated, and must be thinking he had been treated unfairly. But when I was out for two years, I was thinking the same. At the end, this is the Pakistan team and its selectors, coaches and captains make the decision. I am sure this wasn't meant to hurt someone but it's for the country, and whatever they think is good for Pakistan."
Wahab's selection is mainly based on his ability to generate reverse swing in what everyone expects will be batting-friendly conditions. Pakistan had not expected the pitches in the UK to be as flat as they were in the ODI series, as Inzamam pointed out, but on the evidence of those games, they realised the importance of an experienced hand like Wahab.
"Obviously, there's a lot of pressure since Inzi bhai has said that I have been brought back on the basis of my experience," Wahab said. "I have worked hard and matured as a bowler in the last two years. I have learnt a lot and the results are visible to everyone. You can't judge anyone on the basis of one match. I am a bowler and there are chances that I may concede 60, 70 or 80 runs, and it has happened in the past as well. But that's doesn't mean that I lost my skills and ability.
"It is important to keep things simple on batting wickets. Variations and reverse swing are key in the death overs. With the conditions dry and wickets hard in England, there will be reverse swing and the team that does it better will have the advantage. I have expertise in reverse swing so I will try to restrict the flow of runs in the final few overs."