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By Amir Husain
Karachi born Faisal Iqbal, is a middle-order batsman and nephew of Pakistan’s legendary batsman, Javed Miandad. He made his Test debut against New Zealand at Auckland in March 2001. He has played 26 Tests, scoring 1124 runs at an average of 26.76. His highest score of 139 came against India in Karachi. Faisal made his One-Day International (ODI) debut against Sri Lanka in Lahore in February 2000 and in 18 ODIs, he has managed 314 runs at an average of 22.42.
Despite a first-class average of 40.33, he has never really lived up to his potential and as a young player, was never able to displace the likes of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan. However many years later and at the age of 32, he still harbours ambitions to make yet another comeback into the national team.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Faisal Iqbal talked us through his stop-start international career, the burden of playing under the pressure of being the nephew of Javed Miandad, and his future plans and aspirations.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion (PP): Don’t you think being the nephew of Javed Miandad has dented your career more than helped you?
Faisal Iqbal (FI): Let me start by saying that it’s a huge honour to be part of a sporting family. When you have inherited the game and its in your blood, it’s always an honour. Same was the case with me. My father was a professional hockey player. My uncle, Javed Miandad, was a legendary batsman for Pakistan. Similarly, representing Pakistan at the highest level, starting from the U15 World Cup till international cricket, has been an honour for me.
However, I must add that political interference has caused harm to my international career. This kind of interference is totally unexpected and has had a negative effect on my progress. As a player, all I wanted to do was to be part of the glory my family had achieved. My only desire was to make a name for myself like players have done in the past. Whereas it has been an honour for me to be part of such a family, this association has also been a great disadvantage for me when I stepped into the highly competitive world of professional cricket.
A negative image of mine was portrayed by people who were against Javed Miandad since his playing days. For me, those people have always created problems for me. I felt the people who disliked Javed Miandad for whatever reason, tried to use me as a means of getting back at one of Pakistan’s greatest batsmen.
They dropped me, portrayed a negative image of me and labelled me as a player selected due to connections, rather than merit. This type of propaganda has always been in place against me. But, I want to change all that. I want my image as a Pakistan Test player and as a son of Mohammad Iqbal to be highlighted rather than any negative image.
Alhamdolillah, my records depict my hard work and talent. I have proved my credentials whenever I could, in domestic cricket and in international cricket. Why not simply appreciate my performances and back me? Don’t credit Javed Miandad for my inclusion and don’t blame him for my exclusion. This kind of negativity against my name should end now. My performance is for all to see and I should be allowed to play cricket for Pakistan on my own merit. These political hurdles should not be placed in my way. As someone who has played Test cricket for Pakistan, all I am asking for is respect and a fair chance to prove myself.
Lastly, I would like to add that during Javed Miandad’s six year tenure as Director General of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), I was not selected for the national side even though I had played a lot of international cricket by that time. If he really wanted to put me in the side then I am sure, no one would have questioned his judgment.
PP: What advice do you receive from Javed Miandad when you are facing criticism from the media?
FI: You always receive positive advice from your family members. They urge me to focus on my game and answer my critics with the bat. Both he and my father Mohammad Iqbal (late) have always encouraged me. My father played a great role and always backed me. Javed Miandad told me that these things are part and parcel of life. The solution is to perform all the time. That advice really motivated me and gave my morale a welcome boost and helped me become a better player. As a human, it’s not easy to carry undue pressure, but I have been doing it very well. Sadly, this kind of pressure will not stop very soon so I have to deal with it and move on.
PP: Do you think some sections of the media have an agenda against you?
FI: There has always been a lot of undue pressure on me since the time I started playing professional cricket. I was always pressurized as Javed Miandad’s nephew and even ordinary fans get very aggressive towards me because of that reason.
My image was portrayed very negatively even before I started playing at the highest level. Not because there was a danger of me flopping as a player, but because I am related to Javed Miandad. Whilst the media has at times supported me whenever I have performed consistently. There has also been undue criticism which has hurt me a lot. It’s very unfair, when you criticise someone because he’s related to someone and not because he’s underperforming. I have never given such things much importance and that’s why I have scored over 16,000 runs in all cricket. My performance is the only proof needed to prove my abilities. I should also have been treated just like other players have been. I have always tried to perform for my country and for my fans. That’s the only motivation I need to do well.
PP: Why do you think it is that you aren’t popular with most Pakistani cricket fans?
FI: As I mentioned before, it’s due to a wrong image of mine which is projected in the media and onto the fans. I am sure people do like me as my performance speaks for itself. It’s a unique situation as until you are not a regular in the team, your image can’t improve. But people who have seen me play and perform, do appreciate me. They understand my situation. I am like every other player as I have my good and bad days. However, it appears that whenever I am underperforming, I get a lot of criticism and I feel I have committed a crime. Look, I am no superman; I am a human like every other player. I have not been given a consistent run in the national team throughout my career. Had I been played regularly, I would have upped my Test and ODI averages, which have suffered because I have not been played consistently.
Being a replacement player is a tough task for any player and one cannot cement one’s place if that’s how you are used. I could even have moved to South Africa in 2003 as my wife is South African and would have been playing for their national side but I preferred to play for Pakistan. I am sure fans would take a different view of me if they keep above facts in mind.
PP: You’ve missed out on a central contract this time, your thoughts on that decision?
FI: I was saddened and hurt by that decision. You can see my performance in domestic cricket where I didn’t miss any match last season. I proved my form and fitness there. I scored 1100 plus runs and was the second highest scorer in the ODI format. For four successive years, I have been very consistent and have been among the top performers. I am doing my job and have performed to the maximum.
After all that it was heart-breaking not to be awarded a central contract. What more should I do to retain my central contract? I was really disappointed. There was no question on my performance and on my discipline. If your domestic performance is not considered, then which performance will be considered for awarding these contracts? It’s very unfair and it’s almost a crime in my eyes.
My career has been threatened and a lot of people want to end it. It’s my mental and physical strength that I have been able to resist it. In the recently-concluded summer camp, I came up with a new and positive mindset. I am ready to perform again in domestic cricket and to earn my place in the side. But it seems that my performance has once again been put under the carpet, which has really wasted 2-3 years of my playing career.
PP: Some say you have been given ample opportunities to prove your worth and it’s time to give younger batsmen a chance?
FI: Those who say I have been given ample chances should know that I have only played 26 Tests and 18 ODIs in 14 years. No matter how great you are, you cannot cement your place in the side having played so few matches as a replacement player.
If you see the number of international matches played by my colleagues who started playing international cricket at the same time as I did, you would know I have played more matches as a twelfth man than in the team. It’s very hard to cement your spot and score runs if one is not given consistent chances. If you look at the last five Test matches, I have not been asked to bat at one position and been moved around the order. Why not let me play as a solid middle order batsman, so that I can prove my worth to the team?
PP: Do you think you have been given enough chances in international cricket?
FI: I have not played much at all. Every player has the right to prove his performance and make a comeback. There are a lot of great players who have impressed and upped their averages after making a comeback. I am in the same state. When I play as a proper middle order player, only then I can prove myself and not as a replacement player. I’m not even an opener, but I scored an ODI ton as an opener. I was Man of the Match in that game. It proves that I have the potential, but I am low in confidence. The management should use my experience rather than using me in the least effective manner. How can any player perform if they are treated in the way I have been?
PP: Do you think it was it right to play Mohammad Ayub instead of yourself against Sri Lanka in 2012?
FI: Every player has his own value. As a senior player, when you are making a comeback, you become an automatic choice. I was in form and I was making a comeback and I should have been given a chance. Definitely, I would have applied my batting form and I would have helped Pakistan win that match. It was a shocking decision and I was hurt. When I used to play with senior players like Yousuf, Inzamam and Younis, I used to play as a 12th man and now when I am older and more experienced, I am still playing as a 12th man! Ayub was given the chance ahead of me but I took that positively. This question has been asked a lot in the media and 99% people agreed that I should have been played as a senior batsman.
PP: There are accusations that some players ask the groundsmen in domestic cricket to prepare flat tracks, is this true?
FI: No, that’s not true. It’s hilarious. I have never seen such instance. I don’t believe in such stuff. Whenever you play domestic cricket, there are always tough conditions for batsmen. I have played on a lot of tough pitches during my career in domestic cricket. It’s a well known fact that our domestic cricket is very hard for batsmen as we play with a Grays ball, which helps fast bowlers a lot.
PP: Why is it that many Pakistani batsmen can’t convert good domestic form into good scores in international cricket?
FI: It depends on the talent of the player. It’s all about handling the pressure well. The conditions are almost the same. The pitches are the same, the crowd and the players are almost similar. The one, who handles the pressure of international cricket well, thrives. The one, who can’t handle the pressure of international cricket, can never succeed.
PP: What can the PCB do to prepare Pakistani batsmen better for international cricket, particularly for tours to South Africa and Australia?
FI: In my view, the ‘A’ team tours are very important. I was myself discovered through the ‘A’ team structure and have also led the ‘A’ team in the past as well. The fact is that junior level cricket helps a player a lot in his development and it’s really the U19 and ‘A’ team tours where the player improves.
The more the frequency of these tours, the more the players will perform and gain confidence. As you know, the India ‘A’ and Australia ‘A’ teams are playing together and the players who are in and out of the senior teams are playing there. It’s a great opportunity for players to hit form and gain confidence. I gained a lot from playing and leading the ‘A’ team.
PP: What do you make of the current standard of domestic cricket in Pakistan?
FI: There is always room for improvement. The more it will improve, the better for the players. It still needs a vast improvement to meet the standards of domestic cricket abroad. The PCB has to lay a platform for the players, so that they can improve. It’s very important for domestic cricket to be strong as it helps to produce better players in international cricket.
PP: Do you think you can make a comeback to the Pakistan team?
FI: I’m still surprised that I will be making, yet, another comeback when comebacks are for those players who have been dropped for not performing. I am mentally strong and determined as ever. My performances in domestic cricket are because I want to regain my position in the national side. In the recently concluded games to help IDPs in Pakistan, I lead the Pakistan “A” team from the front with excellent captaincy, batting and fielding which was appreciated by all present. This is once again, proof of my suitability as player for the national team.
I should be given a proper chance and I should not be played as a replacement player in future. I am a solid middle order batsman. I’m mature now and I have waited a lot for my turn. Previously, we had a strong middle order, but that is not the case anymore and it’s my turn to prove myself. On the basis of my talent, I should be given a chance. I have waited for 2-3 years on the sidelines.
PP: You have been labeled as a Test batsman. Is that fair?
FI: I think this label of a Test player is unfair as I have simply been sidelined from ODI cricket. No player can prove himself in 18 matches. It’s a conspiracy. I was sidelined from ODIs, played only in Tests and now I have been dropped from there without even performing.
I was the second highest run scorer in the ODI format this season. I scored a century as an opener in an ODI against Zimbabwe. My performances in the ODIs are a proof of my abilities. I am not only a dependable Test batsman, but also a dependable ODI batsman. This label is unfair. I request others to see my performances in domestic cricket and select me on its basis. The conspiracy theories should end.
PP: What message do you have for your fans and critics?
FI: I would like to tell my fans there and also to people who dislike me that a negative image of a player should not be created just because he is related to someone, but because of his performances. If a player is improving, he should be appreciated. If he’s not performing, you should criticise him, but undue criticism hurts a player a lot.
(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. The above article is reproduced with permission from http://pakpassion.net/)
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