By Umar Farooq, ESPNcricinfo,
Wahab Riaz, who last year decided to take an indefinite break from red ball cricket, has agreed to return to play the Test-match leg of Pakistan’s tour of England. He has been named in the larger pool of 29 players, a combined squad for a series of three Tests and T20Is.
Riaz was 34 when announced his break from red-ball cricket. It led to his being demoted in the PCB’s central contracts list, and then to his being omitted entirely from it. His national selection for white-ball cricket was also in doubt when head coach Misbah ul Haq promoted a number of younger fast bowlers ahead of him
“I am very excited to be a part of this England tour,” Wahab said in a video conference. “As you know this tour is being carried on in very unusual circumstances. I was called by the PCB to enquire if I am available to play Test cricket if required on a replacement basis. I straightaway said yes because my priority ultimately is to play for Pakistan.”
Riaz has been in the national circuit since 2008, but hasn’t quite managed a consistent run in the Pakistan team. His selection had often been based on his ability to generate reverse-swing at high pace, and his call-ups were often conditions-dependent. His inconsistency and lack of fitness have often been sticking points with selectors and coaches, and previous head coach Mickey Arthur had criticised his “work ethic” and suggested that he had not “won [Pakistan] a game in two years”, before moving on from him.
That might not have been true if Pakistan’s batting line-up had held their own against Sri Lanka in a famous Test in Dubai in 2017. In the first series following the retirements of Misbah ul Haq and Younis Khan, Wahab Riaz spearheaded the Pakistan bowling attack, and kept Sri Lanka’s 220-run first innings lead within check by helping skittle them all out for 96 in the second innings. That gave Pakistan a chase of 317, one they fell short of by 68 runs, and as a result lost their first series in the UAE since making it their home in 2010. He was dropped following that series and recalled after a year for a home series against Australia, only to be released from the playing squad after playing the first Test.
“Between 2016 and 2019, I played in patches, but even after I performed against Sri Lanka, I wasn’t the part of next tour,” Riaz said, reflecting on his decision to take a break from Tests. “I was called up to play against Australia midway, I was sent back by the then-management. That made me think I wasn’t up to a high enough standard to play Test cricket. But that was way before Misbah and Waqar were brought in at the helm. So I had made a decision speaking with the PCB higher management that I haven’t been playing ample Test cricket for a while and I voluntarily distance myself from this format and decided to concentrate on white-ball cricket.
Since the start of 2016 until he last played a Test, Riaz was Pakistan’s second-highest wicket-taking fast bowler in Tests cricket with 40 wickets at 34.87 in 12 games, trailing only Mohammad Amir. Inconsistency plagued his game, however, and seamer Rahat Ali was often preferred, particularly in England, where Mickey Arthur felt Riaz’s indiscipline made it difficult to pick him.
“When I spoke to the current management, they asked me not to retire completely but take time off instead. And today, in light of those discussions I am able to come back which is a good thing. I never take a decision in haste to regret later. When they communicated with me about this tour, I agreed without even thinking because this is an opportunity to represent Pakistan. The important thing is they need me and I am ready.”
Riaz said he wasn’t upset about losing his central contract, rather focusing on the fact that he was still in national contention. “I know a central contract gives you security that you will play for Pakistan, but even without it, my ultimate goal is to play for Pakistan anyway. Unfortunately, I am not a part of the contract [list] but I will hopefully earn it with my performance next year. As a player, I am not satisfied at all with the situation and I have to be honest with it. If you look at Pakistan cricket, the beauty about it is the number of fast bowlers. There are so many competitive fast bowlers in the system that it’s not really easy to compete.
“You have to be a very consistent performer to play for Pakistan. Between 2010 and 2019 we played our cricket in the UAE where fast bowlers really didn’t get enough support. The nature of the wickets was such that spinners like Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi, Abdur Rehman and Mohammad Hafeez dominated. I can still leave my legacy with my performances but for that, I need to be more dedicated committed and motivated.”
Photo: Wahab Riaz acknowledges the applause by fans (Getty Images)