Sahibzada Farhan defied all odds to reach the top


Sahibzada Farhan’s father could not believe when his son handed him the first pay cheque he received for representing ZTBL in cricket. He was surprised to know that someone is actually paying his son for playing the game he always forbade him to pursue. “When I got my first salary from his department, I showed it to my father, he was astonished to see that they are paying me for playing cricket and also giving me a job, then he started supporting me,” he told with a smile.

The then 17-year old did not know anything about cricket, he did not know how to progress in the game, and he had no idea about regional, district or U-19 levels. He belonged to Charsadda, but moved to Peshawar for better education. He is the eldest of his siblings, his parents wanted him to be a role model for the younger ones. They wanted him to study, whereas his heart was always with cricket. Nor he neither any of his family members had any sort of connection with cricket at a higher level. “I didn’t know anything about cricket, I didn’t know that there are levels like U-17, U-19. I was just playing the game to stay fit and have fun, I never thought cricket can be my future,” he told laughing. “I thought everyone in the academy just comes to enjoy and have some nets, so I will do the same, I had no idea about the route forward and there was no one there to tell me about that till 2011.”

In 2008, Farhan got enrolled in Hankers Club, he had no role model to follow and wanted to become a fast bowler. It did not take long for him to realize that he is not good at this trade and he left the club just after two months. “I started cricket as a fast bowler without any role model. I soon realized things are not going well for me and I left the club,” told Farhan. His decision of quitting cricket was welcomed by his father who advised him to never get back to the game.

He continued his studies for three years and played tape-ball cricket, idolizing Ahmed Shehzad, in streets for fun till one of his friends saw him bat and asked him to rejoin Hankers Club but this time as a batsman and he agreed. As expected, it was not an easy task for a tape-ball player who was habitual of facing fast bowlers bowling Yorkers day in and day out to play technical cricket. “It wasn’t easy for me as I played fast bowlers well as the majority of the tape ball cricketers do, but struggled against spinners. I worked extremely hard to overcome the problem, but it was very difficult for me in the beginning,” he recalled.

During the span, one of his school friends told him about different levels of cricket, which inspired him to work harder and improve his batting. “My friend was called for a camp in NCA, I asked him how did he get there so he explained to me the whole process,” he told. Just three months after rejoining the club, the motivated Farhan appeared in a trial for the regional U-19 team, where he got selected in the first attempt. He was lucky to impress Wajahat Ullah Wasti during a regional tournament, who offered him to play for ZTBL U-19. “I got selected in the first go and played for the U-19 regional team. Wajahat Ullah Wasti saw me play at the regional tournament, he was also the coach of ZTBL then, there used to be U-19 department teams at that time, he asked me whether I would like to play U-19 for region or for the department, and everyone advised me to join the department, so I signed for ZTBL U-19. Zafar Gohar, Hussain Talat and others were of the same batch,” he shared.

Farhan had a perfect start to his First Class career in 2013 when he scored 75 runs in the only game he played for Peshawar in Grade II against Nowshehra. “I could not play the whole tournament, I got a place in the final against Nowshehra and I wanted to make a mark in that game. I scored 75 runs in the first inning,” he stated. He was the only player in the year who was playing Grade II cricket as well as at the U-19 level. He played the whole season of next year, where he struck a double-century, scored 149 runs in an inning followed by a half-century, he overall scored 495 runs.

The turning point in Sahibzada Farhan’s career was Pakistan Cup 2017. Azhar Ali left a space vacant in Balochistan team as he had to perform the national duty. Fakhar Zaman, who saw Farhan scoring a century in a regional T20 tournament, was leading the side. He wanted a replacement for the experienced Pakistani batsman and found Sahibzada a suitable substitute for him. “Fakhar Zaman is from Mardan, so he used to visit Peshawar for big games. There was a T20 tournament and Fakhar was there watching our game. He saw me score a century there,” Farhan Sahibzada told. “Then our team had a game against Fakhar Zaman’s side in the same tournament. I could not perform that well in the game but I just caught the eyes of Zaman and Sajjad Akbar who was Balochistan’s coach in Pakistan Cup,” he added.

Even before the tournament kicked off, Fakhar Zaman assured Farhan that he will play all five games of the campaign irrespective of how he performs, which gave him the much-needed confidence. “I heard people murmuring about my selection, they were talking about how I can replace a player like Azhar Ali, I must have been a parchi. But, I silenced all my critiques with my consistent performance,” he recalled. “I played all five matches in the tournament, Fakhar had already given me confidence that no matter what, you will play all the games, it helped me and I scored four 50’s followed by a century in the final,” he stated.

The right-handed batsman has all praise for the captain Fakhar Zaman. He believes that Fakhar understands his players and support them all the way. Farhan disclosed a very interesting habit of his that he is afraid to practice in nets, all he does there is knocking. “Fakhar is a very good captain, he is energetic and a fighter. I cannot bat in the nets, I am afraid of being hit there, I just have this fear and everyone knows it, Fakhar also knew it, and he never forced me to practice in nets,” he added.

Afterwards, Sahibzada Farhan was named in Pakistan A squad that had to tour Zimbabwe, but that campaign was called off. Moreover, he played Hong Kong Super Sixes for Pakistan alongside Mohammad Sami, Sohail Tanvir and Hammad Azam, where the team was runner-up. The 21-year old found the format short and exciting, “I was under a bit of pressure in the beginning but when I started performing, I got the confidence. It is a unique format, you have to be aggressive from the first delivery,” he told.

Farhan has been picked by Islamabad United in the third season of Pakistan Super League (PSL). He was expecting to play the 2018 edition of the PSL, but, not from Islamabad United. “I was shocked! I was watching the drafts live and was not expecting Islamabad United to pick me, I thought Lahore Qalandars would choose me. I was excited to think I will play with legends like Misbah Ul Haq, Saeed Ajmal and others,” he recalled.

He believes that hard work never goes in vain, Pakistan Cup became his channel to reach the PSL and now the league will become his route to the national team. He is focused on performing well in the tournament and show his worth on the grandest stage of Pakistan cricket. “PSL is watched by the whole world, the best players are playing in the league, so performers get the limelight. I will play my natural game and will try to stand out in the tournament. If I fail, I will work on my techniques and game plan after the tournament,” the determined batsman stated.

Sahibzada Farhan is up for the big challenge. Islamabad United has already given Pakistan team two match-winning players in shape of Rumman Raees and Shadab Khan. Farhan can be another Islamabad United’s product to dazzle the cricketing world with his phenomenal skills with the bat.