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“My ultimate dream is for Scotland to become a Test-playing nation” – Safyaan Sharif speaks on his early days, favorite performances, Scottish cricket and more | Firstsportz Exclusive

29-year-old Safyaan Sharif has swiftly risen through the ranks and become an ace bowler for Scotland.

Safyaan Sharif (Credits – Getty)

Safyaan Sharif has been one of the most consistent performers for Scotland for quite some time now. The 29-year-old made his debut in 2011 and has been going from strength to strength ever since. ‘Saffy’ has 64 wickets in 44 games with an average of 27 and his right-arm pace bowling has troubled even the most feared of opposition.

Ask Chris Gayle who was dismissed off the first ball of a World Cup qualifier match in Zimbabwe. Sharif was also the one who sealed a thrilling win for Scotland against England in a one-off ODI in 2018 that saw him trap No. 11 batsman Mark Wood in front when just 7 runs were required for England to win. Apart from these impressive bowling feats, Sharif can be a handy batter as well. In short, he is a gifted and hard-working cricketer who is a complete package.

With the 2021 T20 World Cup in India looming, the focus for the Scot will be on acing the qualifiers. With heartbreaks in previous qualification tournaments, Scotland will be raring to make their mark in the tournament.

Sharif spoke to firstsportz.com in an exclusive chat about his early life, that Chris Gayle dismissal, the upcoming T20 World Cup and more.

Excerpts from the exclusive interview

Safyaan Sharif (Credits – Getty)

What inspired you to become a cricketer? Was there a moment where you realized ‘this is it. I wanna become a cricketer’ or was it something that was always on the back of your mind?

I’d probably say it was a moment in my life where I realized that this is what I want to do . I really enjoyed playing the game and I loved everything about it. I was always into a lot of sports like Football, cricket, basketball. But cricket stood out because my dad played cricket and was a good cricketer himself. I didn’t really know, however, that I would become a professional cricketer. It was however, during one moment when I was about 13-14 where I realized this is something I can try doing and become a good player one day. And by God’s grace, it worked out well. 

Who was your inspiration growing up? Who did you look up to? And who has been your main mentor or the person/coach who is responsible for who you are today?

Inspiration was always my dad. He was a good player himself. He didn’t take on a cricketing career as he had businesses. I’ve always looked up to him. He has done so much for me throughout my career. My mum and dad – I can’t thank them enough for what they have done for me to make me who I am now. If it wasn’t for my dad, I honestly wouldn’t have been a cricketer. He was the one who realized that I have talent.

It was a moment when I was playing against my dad. The team that my dad played for had never been defeated in the last 5 years against my team. That day I bowled against my dad. I bowled 8 overs in a row and they found it difficult to score off me. I was 13-14. Then they realized this guy could become something. That’s where I took it from. My family has been supporting me since I was a kid. I can’t thank them enough.

Did you model your bowling around any player in particular? Or was your style of bowling something that came naturally to you?

My bowling action was natural to be honest. It was all about enjoying going out there and playing. I would have loved to have a nice action like for example those of Dale Steyn, Brett Lee, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis. They all have slingy and smooth actions. But I had my natural action and just kept working on it to make it better.

So the pandemic situation has been unprecedented and difficult for everybody. How has the situation affected the way you train and practise? Have you been able to train as a team through national camps and such or has everything been limited to individual training?

The pandemic has been very difficult all around the world and especially for athletes as it becomes difficult to train indoors. We found it difficult as associates as we had so many games including top games against Australia, New Zealand and the World Cup as well so that was frustrating as we were working hard during the winter and in summer we were off for a bit when corona hit. We have, however, managed to do outdoor training using national camps after that.

With the World T20 looming, how has preparation been? How excited are you about the tournament and how do you evaluate Scotland’s chances of pulling off an upset or two?

I think the preparation for the T20 WC has been good. It’s been difficult to train but we’re staying fit and strong and doing as much as we can until we get back to training. We have a big year ahead of us. We are definitely excited. It’s always great to be a part of the World Cup. We don’t need to prove to anyone that we need to earn a spot to play. We deserve to play and compete against bigger teams. Hopefully we do get the chance and cross the line.

Obviously one of the most memorable moments in your career is picking up Chris Gayle in the first ball of a match. Can you talk us through the moment and what was going through your mind before and after the delivery?

Everyone talks about that ball against Chris Gayle. I’m lucky enough to get him out in the first ball of a match. He’s a huge name who can take away a game single-handedly. It was a big game for both teams. We had to win to go through to the WC and they did as well. I had a funny feeling and butterflies in my stomach before the match that I was going to be bowling against Gayle and a top side. We had good staff management who analyzed him and his weaknesses.

I spoke to my captain before the ball and the captain wanted to bowl a yorker. But I wanted to bowl a good line and length and make it swing. I stuck to that plan and when I was approaching the crease and the ball went out of my hand, I had a feeling that it was going to hit a good area and very soon I heard the nick and everything went well for me. It was a great feeling. In such a crucial match, to get Gayle out off the first ball was a big thing. It was a big relief and I’m really glad that happened.

What is one performance of yours that you consider your favorite?

My best performance I would say is my maiden 5-wicket haul. It came against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe. This is because I was under a lot of pressure, I went for 19 runs in my first two overs and came back strong and ended with 5-33 in 10 overs. That was one of my favorite performances. My best moment was however, the LBW of Mark Wood to seal victory for Scotland against England in the one-off ODI in 2018.

What are your thoughts on Scottish cricket at the moment? Do you think it is on the right track? How do you think it can improve?

Scotland cricket is going in the right direction. We’re progressing our regional and domestic cricket. The slow progress is getting better. Making cricket game-aware is what we are aiming at. Just growing the game in Scotland is something we can work on to try and bring more fans to games. We’re doing everything we need to do to achieve that and obviously as cricketers we have to do well on the pitch and make sure that we’re doing our best to become a Test-playing nation as well. So these are the things we can do as players, both the men’s and women’s teams.

You have swiftly been making your name as one of the best bowlers among the associate nations at present. So what is your next goal? And what would you say is your ultimate dream?

Next goal would be to become the leading wicket-taker for Scotland. I’ll do whatever I can to get there at one point in my life. This is just so I can perform consistently for Scotland. Another goal is to score some runs as I am working on my batting as well. My ultimate dream would be for Scotland to become a Test-playing nation. We’re not far off. We’re really close. We need to keep performing well and consistently and hopefully we’ll achieve that dream and my dream.

What would your advice be for young and aspiring cricketers hoping to make it big in cricket?

I like to keep things simple so my advice would be that whenever you play cricket, make sure you’re enjoying it. Never fear the opponent. Play with confidence and back your skills and strengths. Don’t worry about anyone else if you concentrate on yourself, you will perform well.

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