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Tayyab Tahir: 'My passion turned into my profession because of my father'

  • Digital interview available hereUrdu version of the media release is attached here

Hambantota, 20 August 2023: This has been an exciting year for Tayyab Tahir. An outstanding run in the Pakistan Cup 2022-23 – in which he helped Central Punjab to the title by being the best batter (573 runs at 47.75 and a strike rate of 99.65) of the tournament and the player of the final – got him a maiden call-up for the three One-Day Internationals against New Zealand in January. Two months later, he scored a half-century on HBL Pakistan Super League debut for Karachi Kings and that immediately followed his Pakistan debut during the three-T20 International series against Afghanistan in Sharjah.

Now, Tayyab, who hails from Gujrat, is in line to play his second Asia Cup in as many months after scoring a match-winning century against India A in the ACC Emerging Men’s Asia Cup.

Tayyab’s first introduction to cricket was through tape-ball cricket as usually is the case in Pakistan. For his ability to hit big, Tayyab, by early teenage, had won many admirers. Realising his potential and after a conversation with his elder brother, Tayyab’s father, Tahir Yasin, took him to Lahore at the age of 14 so he could pursue the game professionally.

“I belong to a village named Thoon near Sarai Alamgir and used to play tape-ball cricket there,” the 30-year-old told PCB Digital. “There used to be no professional hard-ball cricket in that area, so everyone played with tape-ball. I was fond of football before taking up tape-ball cricket, and I was really good at it. There was, however, no scope in football.

“I used to watch cricket on the television, started to play it, and got good at it too. People in the nearby villages used to invite me [to play for their teams]. People used to come to the ground to watch me. I was a kid at that time so I was not aware of the following I had developed. It was only when I started to play hard-ball cricket that I realised the true value of this sport.

“My uncle, who lives in England, told my dad to get me into professional cricket so I can excel as a cricketer. My father took me to Lahore and got me into PNT club, ran by Azhar Zaidi. Abdul Razzaq, the Pakistan all-rounder, took my trials. He was kind enough to not to bowl fast at me and said that I am brave enough to be a cricketer; all I had to do was work hard.”

“I am grateful to my father who made sure my passion turned into my profession. Usually, parents want their children to be doctors or take up some other profession. My father saw what I was passionate about and in return, I worked hard to make him proud.”

The transformation, from tape-ball to hard-ball cricket, often times, is challenging for batters as the art in hard-ball cricket demands an alteration in grip, more pronounced footwork and a steady balance. Whether it was facing thousands of balls in the nets to develop muscle memory or noticing minute details by watching cricketers around him, Tayyab, who arrived in Lahore in 2007, aged 14, gave everything to make sure he excelled in the sport.

“It is tough to make the switch,” he acknowledged. “In tape-ball cricket, all you have to do is swing your bat. I did not even know which leg guard goes on what leg. I used to observe cricketers around me and on the television, and pick up things that they used to do to upskill myself.”

The dividends started to come in 2015 when he made domestic debuts across all formats. He scored half-centuries for Lahore Eagles and Lahore Blues in List A and first-class formats, and had to wait around three years for his first innings in T20 cricket. His T20 career also kicked off with a half-century for Lahore Whites against Peshawar.

His numbers, so far, have been impressive – 2,300 List A runs at 44.23 and a strike rate of 90.83, 2,766 first-class runs at 33.73 and a strike rate of 53.92, and 833 T20 runs at 37.86 at 137 runs per hundred balls. Though his debuts across all three formats came opening the innings, Tayyab over the years, has developed into a reliable middle-order batter, because of his ability to keep the scoreboard ticking regularly.

When asked what he felt was the key to be a successful middle-order batter, Tayyab said, “It is very important for a middle-order batter to look for runs. Sometimes, you get a loose ball right away and you hit it. Sometimes, the situation can be a little tricky. If it is a turning track, you have to change your approach and be patient. If you get a good batting wicket, you can start rotating the strike right away. Middle-order is the backbone of any side. Often, you don’t have much time to settle down, rather you have to score runs right away.”

His most impactful innings has come in the middle-order when his belligerent 108 off 71, studded with 12 fours and four sixes, helped Pakistan Shaheens beat India A in the final of the Emerging Asia Cup in Colombo last month.

Tayyab had to rebuild the innings after Shaheens lost three wickets for just four runs and slipped from 183 for two to 187 for five. During his rearguard knock, Tayyab displayed exceptional nerves to first avert an impending collapse and then pounce on the opposition with a sparkling onslaught late in the innings to take his team to 352 for eight.

“I am glad I was able to put up a performance against India and because of which I am now with the Pakistan team. It was a big match for sure. I was getting messages from many people that you have to win us this match.

“The situation started to look precarious when we lost back-to-back wickets. I was at the crease during that phase. When Mubasir Khan joined me he said, “Tayyab bhai, I will do whatever you ask of me, but we have to go till the end.” I told him that the momentum is with the Indian side at the moment, so let’s rebuild by taking two-three runs an over for the next few overs. It helped us to gauge the pitch’s behaviour, after which we posted a big score.”

He also carries a reputation for being a reliable fielder because of his safe pair of hands and a strong arm. During the third ODI between Pakistan and New Zealand in Karachi in January, Tayyab fired a bullet from cover, as a substitute fielder, to send Finn Allen back as New Zealand lost their first wicket.

“Fielding has a great impact in the outcome of a match,” he said. “I used to love fielding when I started playing cricket. I was not bothered whether I got to bat, I used to be focused on taking running catches and a by-product of that was my throwing got better. Sometimes, you are not able to score, but you can cover the lack of runs by saving runs for your side and getting wickets.”

Bigger challenges await Tayyab. He is in line to make his ODI debut and enters the side this time with more noteworthy performances to his name. He is excited for the opportunity and is eager to grab it with both hands. But, for now, that he has been able to make his father proud, makes him feel content.

“My father has supported a lot and I cannot explain the happiness I feel when I see him happy because of me. My father was overjoyed when he got to know I have been selected for the Asia Cup and the Afghanistan series. My parents have supported me a lot, and that they get happiness because of me is of great satisfaction for me.

“It is every cricketer’s dream to play for Pakistan. It is not easy to be here. So, when my name was announced in the team, I was wondering how many cricketers dream of being here for the major events. We have the Asia Cup coming up, which is followed by the World Cup. Everyone wants to be part of these events. I am grateful to Almighty that I am in the Asia Cup squad. I would try my best to put up a strong show so I get selected for the World Cup.”