Northern Fast-Bowler Munir Riaz Expresses a Wish To Meet Shoaib Akhtar
Mohammad Wasim’s Northern began Quaid-e-Azam Trophy 2019 as the team of underdogs, with a squad that seemed relatively weaker for the four-day format. However, they made a staggering comeback in the second half of the season. This effort helped them to finish second on the points table. Hence, they qualified for the final, which they would go on to lose to Central Punjab.
Fast forward to the latter stages of the 2020 tournament, and Northern has gained a reputation for being a high-performing side. They don’t have the biggest names on the circuit; they get results with a distinctive playing style. The management has made it a point to emphasize the importance of aggressive cricket. Additionally, they have also relied on youngsters. One such youngster is the fast-bowler Munir Riaz.
Come the fifth round of the 2020 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Northern’s fast-bowlers hadn’t fared too well. Thus, the Head Coach and captain Nauman Ali announced the playing XI, including teenager Munir Riaz. The fast-bowler came through the ranks after performing well in the 2019 edition of the National U19 3-Day tournament. There, he was his side most successful pacer, picking up 14 wickets at an average of 22.
In an exclusive interview with Grassroots Cricket, the youngster said that Mohammad Wasim personally called him up alongside two other players from the 2nd XI. They were then promoted to the 1st XI squad. “During the practice sessions with the team, I bowled well and impressed him, and then, he gave me a chance. Both Mohammad Wasim and (assistant coach) Masroor bhai have helped me a lot and backed me, which has helped me perform well.”
The youngster stated that the team management informed him he would make his FC debut against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “They told me about the plans and said to bowl according to my strengths, which gave me a lot of confidence. I didn’t feel much pressure despite it being my debut.”
Northern batted first, piled on 460/9, and declared. Then, it was time for the debutant to share the new ball with Waqas Ahmed. There were some signs of him being nervous at the start as he conceded a few boundaries. However, it wasn’t long before he had his maiden First Class wicket. A ball angling in defeated Musadiq Ahmed’s attempted block and castled the stumps.
The 19-year-old says that he focused on putting in his best effort. “My strength is that I concentrate a lot on my pace and hit the hard lengths.” Hit the hard lengths, he did, dismissing four of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s top five batsmen, including established names on the First Class circuit, such as Israrullah, Adil Amin, and Zohaib Khan. He would later go on to register a five-wicket haul in his maiden First Class innings as Northern took a 142-run first-innings lead.
The fast-bowler from Rawalpindi said that the performance had given him immense confidence as Northern head into the business end of the tournament. “I will try to perform & give my 100% effort, just like I did in the first game. Insha’Allah, I will gain the fruit for my effort.”
Since then, however, the teenager has faced a setback, suffering an injury after just two First Class matches. Not an uncommon sight with fast-bowlers, Northern’s management will nonetheless be hopeful that Munir can recover from his injury soon. Mohammad Wasim called up Shadab Majeed from the 2nd XI, but he has struggled to make an impact so far.
The young fast-bowler hails from Rawalpindi, the home of several big names such as Mohammad Akram, Yasir Arafat, Sohail Tanvir, and Mohammad Amir. However, arguably the biggest star from the region is the Rawalpindi Express, Shoaib Akhtar, also one of Pakistan’s biggest stars. Young Munir Riaz is well aware of Rawalpindi’s fast-bowling legacy. “I have always wanted to bowl fast like Shoaib Akhtar; he has been my idol since the start and still is.”
He states that he had the pleasure of meeting the world’s fastest bowler on one occasion. However, that was when he was young and hadn’t even started playing cricket. But he is hopeful of another meeting and a chance to pick the brains of one of the biggest superstars of his time. “It’s my wish that I meet him (again) and get some tips from him (about my bowling).”
With the revamped domestic cricket system, the Kookaburra ball, and more balanced pitches, fast-bowlers are finding First Class cricket quite challenging. However, Munir feels that he has the skills to perform at the highest level. “My main strength is out-swinger, which comes naturally to me, and my deliveries rise a lot from the good length. So, I work a lot on that and try to hit the hard length so that it creates problems for the batsmen.”
Having represented Pakistan at the Under-19 level in 2017, the fast-bowler got a taste of putting on the green shirt. He participated in the U-19 Youth Asia Cup, bowling alongside the likes of Musa Khan and Shaheen Shah Afridi. Now, the pace-bowler wants to follow in their footsteps. “It’s my goal to represent Pakistan and serve my country. Whichever format I get a chance to play in, I would give my 100% effort.”