COLOMBO - You will be playing your 100th Test match from Thursday. What does this mean to you?

It's like a dream come true because I wished for it. When I played my first Test I got a taste of this format and then I starting developing a desire to play 100-plus Test matches. When I started playing cricket only Javed Miandad and Saleem Malik had more than 100 [for Pakistan]. I still remember Wasim Akram playing his 100th Test, and also Inzamam-ul-Haq completing his 100th. Watching them achieving it in front of me made me want it more, so now when I am about to achieve this, becoming the fifth one to do so, it makes me a happy and proud Pakistani.

Did you believe all these years that you could achieve this?

You achieve things in your life only when you have a strong will. I always wanted to play 100 Tests, many ODIs and T20s, win big trophies, cups. Whatever I wished for, I did achieve by the Grace of Allah.

So you think you have achieved everything that matters in your cricketing life?

I believe I still have a lot to achieve and there is a lot to do in life. But I managed to get to 100 Tests, which is a big honour. A country like Pakistan, where the number of matches is fewer compared to other parts of the world, even Javed Miandad took about 18 years to play 124. For me it has taken 15 years to get to 100. During all those years I did face a lot of difficulties but I motivated myself, worked on my fitness and kept myself in the game. This is how I managed to stretch myself to get here.

You have played many Tests in front of empty stadiums. How painful is this?

For the last few years now we have been forced to play away from home in the UAE, where people don't have time to watch Test matches. They are mostly there for work and their routine doesn't allow them to come and watch cricket in the stadium. Playing in front of an empty stadium is dissatisfying. When you don't have the acknowledgement of the crowd, it makes you feel incomplete and it's tough to motivate yourself.

"I enjoy living with nature. Being out on the sea allows you to be with nature, where you don't think about daily life, what you are going to eat in the afternoon, what you are going to do in the evening"

When the cricket was in Pakistan at least our friends and family would come to the ground. But what can we do? You see how much bigger the motivation is for the players who play in the Ashes. Players love to perform in front of a crowd, playing in front of a home crowd is something that drives you. At the end of the day we play and perform for the people of the country.

Why have you never transitioned smoothly into the role of captain?

I might not look like an aggressive person but I am a very aggressive person. So when I am captaining I start to act aggressively and expect my colleagues to act like that. If you see, there are 20 to 25 players, including coaches, and everyone has a unique nature of their own, but I tried and forced all to act in a way I wanted them to. I think that's the reason I wasn't able to get on with the captaincy smoothly.

But if you see my tenure, the last six months or so, what I achieved for Pakistan, we won the 2009 World T20. That's the kind of thing that makes you proud, that whatever happened in my captaincy career, this is the highlight.

Between 2009 and 2010 you disappeared for a while amid controversy, but came back, and then never looked back. How did you keep yourself motivated?

You always need a break in your career and it may come in various forms - injury, being dropped over bad performance, or being stuck in a controversy like what happened with me at that time. But I never took it negatively. I had the time to think about the mistakes I had made. In that phase of my career I learnt how to carry myself, I went back to the drawing board and thought a lot about everything with a clear mind and made a commitment to move forward. Since then I have performed much better. Whenever I get stuck, I immediately go back to when I made that resolve. I recall my goals and move forward.

I heard you spent a lot of time fishing at the time.

I hail from Mardan, a city situated in the north, on the countryside, so I enjoy living with nature. Being out on the sea allows you to be with nature, where you don't think about daily life, what you are going to eat in the afternoon, what you are going to do in the evening, worry about people coming for autographs… It's just you, nature and the sea. There is only one language: silence, and you are absorbed in nature.

Which of your innings do you rate highly, and why?

There are a lot of innings, but the one I played in Auckland in 2001 is one of the few I would want to recall. Mainly because I was trying to establish myself and I was making a comeback after a gap. Then in 2009, when we lost the ODI series very badly at home at the hands of Sri Lanka and I suddenly became the captain of a young team. I wanted to give myself something to start a new phase of my career and I scored a triple-hundred. That is another special innings.

Regardless of your Test success, you somehow never really got going in limited-overs cricket. Why is that?

I am among only a few players for Pakistan who have played 250 ODIs and also played T20s, and played with consistency. I used to play at No. 6 and 7, which wasn't a suitable number for me as I am not an aggressive batsman. I am the sort of batsman who takes 15-20 overs and crafts my innings gradually. But I never played for myself, or tried to end not-out regardless of the team requirement, and that's why I got out in pursuit of scoring quick runs. That's why my ODI average is 31.

Do you think there are any players in the present set-up who can come close to what you have achieved, or surpass your figures?

I think Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq can go beyond 100 Test matches. I think they can do it and can do better than me.

What plans do you have for your retirement?

It's very near and obviously I will call off my career with grace. I will walk away myself, but I still have some goals in my mind and I am close to achieving those goals as well. I can't share that goal at this point, but you will know very soon.