By Amir Husain
Being the nephew of former Pakistan captain and batting maestro, Inzamam-ul-Haq, may well be a source of undue burden on Imam-ul-Haq. If there was any pressure on the left-handed middle order batsman from Lahore, it did not manifest itself as the young batsmen announced himself at the age of 16 to the world of cricket in the Under-19 Asia Cup in 2012, averaging 45 from five games including three consecutive fifties and an 88 in his first game against India, as Pakistan went on to share the trophy with their neighbours.
Currently at the age of 17, he has played three First-Class games scoring 98 runs in total. He has also played three Twenty20 games with 23 runs to his name and recently took part in the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) emerging player training program in Lahore where he spoke exclusively with PakPassion.net on a variety of topics including the pressure of being the nephew of Inzamam, the successful Under-19 tour of England, his views on his fellow Under-19 players, as well as his goals for the upcoming domestic season.
To many observers, having one of Pakistan’s premier batsman, Inzamam as your uncle would be a cause of stress but Imam believes that he can put his uncle’s experience to good use in the development of his own cricket.
“I feel very proud to be his nephew. He has always been very supportive. He guided me when I was playing in the Under-19 World Cup and he was also of immense help recently in England. Whenever I have any issue, I go to him for guidance and he helps me out. I use the fact that I am related to him as a positive thing. If I do well, it’s great and if I don’t, I try to find out the errors and improve on them. The fact is that he just wants me to play positive cricket. Whenever I am lacking, I take his advice, but I have not had any discussions with him regarding my technique.”
The failure of the Pakistan Under-19 team at the World Cup in Australia last year was a cause of major disappointment for Pakistan supporters. Imam’s personal run tally in that tournament wasn’t anything to write home about as he ended up with 78 runs from six games at an average of 15.6 and to add insult to injury, India and Bangladesh also beat Pakistan in the tournament. As painful as that may be for ordinary Pakistani fans, Imam did not feel that some of the reactions to the defeats were justified. “Obviously, when you don’t do well, you don’t get a cheerful reception. When we won the Asia Cup, we were received gleefully and when we didn’t do wonders in the Under-19 World Cup, we got a rude response. Fans get too emotional at times, but that’s the way it is.”
The Pakistan Under-19 team recently made headlines when they returned unbeaten and victorious in a tri-series tournament in England featuring squads from England and Bangladesh with Imam scoring 237 runs in six innings. The experience of playing in England is one that Imam feels very satisfied about. “There was a lot of media pressure on us due to our previous performances in the Under-19 World Cup and we were told that the conditions and the pitches in England will be tough. However, our manager Ali Zia and the other coaches worked with us diligently. We had a long preparatory camp and that helped us a lot. These tours should be organised in future as well. In the end, we remained successful in England with an unbeaten record.”
Like many other nations, Pakistan depends on a ready supply of young cricketing talent via the tried and tested route of the Under-19 system and Imam is hopeful that a number of players from the current Under-19 side will play for the national team in the future.
“I believe that four-five players on average will end up playing for the national team. In such a list, I would include Zafar Gohar, Shayan Jehangir, our skipper Sami Aslam, Imran Butt and Hussain Talat. I believe real cricket only starts after you have played at the Under-19 level. There is, of course, a possibility that somebody apart from the aforementioned names manages to play for Pakistan. I suppose, it depends a lot on the hard work they put in.”
With the Under-19 tour of England under their belt, Imam and his colleagues are now looking towards their future and he remains confident that given their collective talent pool, they will be able to put their recent experiences to good use in the upcoming season.
“It will be a crucial time for those Under-19 players, who will play some part in the upcoming First-Class season and the Under-19 domestic season. There are four-five players who will be playing First-Class cricket this season. An example and someone that we can all look at is Ehsan Adil, who took 54 wickets in the last President’s Trophy and is now part of Pakistan’s squad. We won’t be able to play more than four First-Class matches as we have a tour of Dubai, but it will be our aim to do our level best in as many matches we play in domestic cricket this season.”
(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net)