2013 is a huge year for Scottish cricket: Majid Haq

Majid Haq bowls against South Africa during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 Group A match between at Warner Park on March 20, 2007 in Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis © Getty Images

Majid Haq represented Scotland at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-23 levels, making his debut for the senior side on 20 July 20, 2002. An off-spinner and hard-hitting left-handed batsman, he was a member of the Scottish squad at the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. 

The 29-year-old Haq has played 29 One-Day Internationals, averaging 30.37 with the ball and 18.54 with the bat. He has also participated in 13 T20Is, taking 18 wickets at an average 16.61. He has scored one century, against the Netherlands, in the Intercontinental Cup in 2011. 

Haq spoke to PakPassion.net’s  Sajid Sadiq about getting into cricket at a young age, his role models, career highlights and aims for the upcoming season which will include matches against Pakistan and Australia. 

PakPassion (PP): How did you get into cricket? What was it about the game that motivated you to play at a high level?

Majid Haq (MH):  I got into cricket through my dad’s brothers. They used to play for a local club side in Kilmacolm called Old Grammarians. Like most British-born Asians, the first love was cricket in the family. It’s in the blood of Asians. That’s not to say I didn’t play other sports, but I was probably better at cricket than other sports that I played; for example I played football and badminton, both at a good level, but cricket is definitely the first game that I really enjoyed.

PP: Most Asians either want to be a batsman or a fast bowler – very rarely do you come across youngsters wanting to be off-spinners. When did you realise that off-spin was your strength?

MH: I actually started off as a fast bowler, and then at under-13 level one of my coaches said to me that he thought I would be a good off-spinner. It was a great suggestion by my coach. After that I really enjoyed bowling spin.

PP: When did you take up cricket seriously and how did you come through the Scottish system to actually play for Scotland?

MH: I’d say I was about 12 when I started taking it seriously. I got picked for the Scotland Under-13 side and after that took cricket very seriously. Obviously, to represent your country is a major honour. It was all mainly due to my family and all the coaches who have helped me along the way.

PP: Who were your early role models?

MH: I still remember the 1992 World Cup final when Pakistan beat England. Watching Imran Khan lift the World Cup was a very special moment. That encouraged me a lot to take up the sport. I’m a left-handed batsman and an off-spin bowler so there are three players I admire the most: Saeed Anwar, Brian Lara and Saqlain Mushtaq.

PP: Playing for one of the Associate teams doesn’t necessarily mean that you play all year round. When it’s off season, what do you do? Do you have a part-time job? What else do you do apart from cricket?

MH: I’m actually very fortunate that cricket is my full time job as Scotland plays all year round. Next month we’re away to Dubai to play against Afghanistan in two T20 games, two 50-over games and a four-day match. The season in the UK then starts in the first week of April so we’ve actually got a very busy year this year. We’ve got two games against Pakistan, two games against Australia, five games against Ireland, five games against Kenya, five games against Afghanistan as well as twelve games against English counties – we’ve got a very busy summer this year. Cricket’s becoming a very big sport in Scotland and the team is progressing nicely. This is a huge year for Scottish cricket, as we can qualify for two World Cups. Insha’Allah [God-willing] we can do it.

PP: So there’s a central contract system through Cricket Scotland for all of the players?

MH: No, not all the players, I think 80% off the players are probably full-time professionals now. That’s with Cricket Scotland and also with the English counties, so we’ve come a long way but there’s still plenty more to do for cricket to become fully professional in Scotland, but we’re on the right track.

PP: Scotland hasn’t quite managed a big result against one of the big Test playing nations. Do you think a result against a Pakistan or an Australia would boost the popularity of cricket in Scotland?

MH: Yes, we take great inspiration from the way Ireland and Holland beat Pakistan in recent times. We actually beat Bangladesh last July in a T20 International, so that was a great highlight for cricket in Scotland to beat a big team like Bangladesh. Insha’Allah, we can beat Pakistan and also Australia this coming summer.

PP: Do you feel that Cricket Scotland can look to promote the game further in schools, in particular public schools in the Glasgow and Edinburgh area where there’s a large Pakistani population? Maybe some of those boys just need a little bit of a nudge towards cricket?

MH: Yes, definitely. I think we can do a lot more. We’ve got development officers in all the regions in Scotland trying to promote cricket. They’re doing a good job. It’s the second most played sport in Scotland, after football. The numbers in Scotland are definitely growing every year. We can’t do anything about the weather. Hopefully this summer we have a great summer, and hopefully more people will be taking up cricket every year.

PP: Last year Cricket Scotland changed the domestic structure by replacing the Scottish National Cricket League with the Cricket Scotland League. Do you think that was a good move and will help produce a more competitive level of cricket in Scotland?

MH: I’m not sure it produced a higher level of cricket in Scotland, especially in the west. I would say the east side was tough cricket, but I think we’ve created a regional series where all the best players from Glasgow are playing in one team and the best players from Edinburgh are playing in one team, and the best players from Aberdeen and Dundee play in one team. I think that’s definitely a higher level of cricket, so the regional team series will be just below the national team standard.

PP: At the moment the step between playing domestic cricket in Scotland and then for Scotland against other international teams must be huge. How can that gap be bridged and get Scottish players better prepared for international cricket?

MH: Obviously more players on professional contracts and on better money would definitely help. Also, getting more exposure playing overseas, playing cricket more or less 12 months a year would definitely improve the game in Scotland. We’ve also got a lot of players playing county cricket, so hopefully when they come back to play for Scotland they will definitely improve the team.

PP: Azhar Ali, the Pakistani batsman, played league cricket in Scotland a few years ago. He says it was an enjoyable experience and it helped him develop as a cricketer. Tell us a bit more about the standard of club cricket in Scotland.

MH: The standard of club cricket in Scotland is very good, but you can’t do much about the pitches and the weather. I’m captain Clydesdale Cricket Club, one of the biggest and strongest clubs in Scotland.

PP: You mentioned about playing Afghanistan soon and then matches against Australia, Ireland, Pakistan later this year. You must be excited about the opportunity of playing at international level and you must be hoping that the ICC can provide more of these opportunities for the Scottish team?

MH: Definitely. It’s up to us now to basically perform in these games and then the ICC will hopefully take notice. The ICC has been helping Scotland quite a lot funding-wise and they see Cricket Scotland obviously developing their own players. I would say 80% of our team has come through the youth system so I would say definitely the ICC look upon Cricket Scotland very fondly. At the end of the day it’s qualifying for the World Cups and major things – and Insha’Allah this year we have the opportunity to qualify for two World Cups.

PP: Recently I interviewed Niall O’Brien, the Ireland wicket-keeper batsman. He spoke about a two-tier Test match set-up where the best sides are in Division One and the other teams are in Division Two, and a promotion and relegation system after a couple of years. Do you think that would work?

MH: I think that would work very well. Teams like Australia, South Africa, Pakistan, England, India and Sri Lanka I would say are quite a bit ahead of teams like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland ourselves, but I reckon a two-tier system would work very well. Obviously the bottom teams would play each other and I would say that would work very well.

PP: Do you think that Scotland would be able to compete against the likes of Bangladesh, Ireland, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Afghanistan in that second division?

MH: I think we would be very confident of beating teams at that level, to be honest. We played Bangladesh last time in July and beat them quite comfortably in a Twenty20 International. We’ve beaten Kenya quite a lot in recent times. We beat Afghanistan and we beat Ireland two years ago as well. So I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to beat these teams on a regular basis.

PP: Does Scotland play a lot of three-day and four-day cricket?

MH: We play a four-day competition now against the fellow Associates. We’re sitting actually second in the table at the moment – just behind Ireland. We have a huge game against Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi in six weeks time and we are all looking forward to it. All the top cricketers say that Test cricket is the acid test of a cricketer, so I really enjoy the longer format. It gives me the chance to bowl long spells and also take my time when I bat as well. I think it suits my game pretty well.

PP: Any career highlights that are memorable?

MH: I have played in three World Cups now. I played the 2007 50-over World Cup in the Caribbean, the 2007 World T20 in South Africa and the 2009 World Cup in England. I have had a lot of career highlights. I would say my favourite wicket was getting the great Jacques Kallis out at The Oval 2009. Also facing guys like Shaun Tait and some of the quickest bowlers in the world, including Shoaib Akhtar. Also, getting four wickets against the West Indies. Unfortunately we lost that game by two wickets, thanks to a great innings by Chris Gayle.

PP:  Facing the likes of Shoaib Akhtar wouldn’t have been a very enjoyable experience!

MH: (Laughs) I enjoyed the challenge of facing the quickest bowlers in the world. Obviously, there is a chance that you could get seriously hurt if you are not brave enough, but I really enjoyed the challenge of facing Shoaib Akhtar in 2003 when he was probably at his quickest.

PP: Shoaib was never shy of offering a bit of advice to the batsmen. Did he have any words for you? 

MH: Yes, he did! He’s one of those bowlers who doesn’t mind injuring the opponent and actually enjoys it. In fact, I got hit in the ribs by one of his deliveries in 2003. Luckily, I also got some runs that day. I got a warm handshake at the end and he showed me a lot of respect, which was nice.

PP: The Clydesdale Bank competition is very important for Scotland and a good opportunity to play against some of the best county cricketers in England. That must be a very important factor for Scotland in the development of players?

MH: Yes, definitely. Some of the English counties are quality sides and our players love playing against the counties. They’ve got 12 games in the summer and we’re looking forward to getting out of our own group and doing well. Hopefully we’ll put on a great show and counties will remember Scotland cricket team as being a very good side and tough opponents.

PP: Any plans or ambitions to play county cricket?

MH: Yes, I’d love to play county cricket if I got a chance and also the Twenty20 tournaments around the world. I’d love to get a chance to play in the Pakistan Super League starting in March. It sounds like a very exciting tournament and I would love to be part of that. In fact I’d love to play in any of these T20 tournaments that are coming up.

PP: You spoke about Scotland and the international fixtures this year. You have a couple of matches against Pakistan coming up. You must be looking forward to that challenge of facing one of the top sides in the world in two One-Day Internationals?

MH: Yes, it’s a great opportunity for the Scotland team to beat a top side like Pakistan. They are in form at the moment as well and have a lot of exciting players coming too. We are looking forward to getting a chance against Saeed Ajmal and I’m looking forward to meet him and pick his brains. I’m really looking forward to the two games in May.

PP: Any particular batsmen from the Pakistan side whose wicket you’ll have your eye on?

MH: My favourite player in the Pakistan team is Nasir Jamshed and he reminds me a little bit of Inzamam-ul-Haq, the way he looks and runs. His strokeplay reminds me of Saeed Anwar. If he can have a career similar to Saeed Anwar or Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan cricket will be very lucky.

PP: I guess the Pakistan players won’t get away with too much sledging or talking about the opposition on the field while you’re there!

MH: I think it will all be quite light hearted and I’m not easily flustered sort of person. I’m quite chilled out. I just concentrate on my game.

PP: Those matches against Australia are huge, against one of the best sides in the world. That must be something you and your team mates will be looking forward to as well?

MH: We have to play Afghanistan in Sharjah in March, so we can’t look too far ahead. First and foremost, we need to beat Afghanistan. Obviously winning becomes a habit and if we start the summer well and beat Afghanistan, it’ll give us great confidence going in to the games later on in the year.

PP: Afghanistan is one of the most-improving Associate teams despite all the issues and problems that we know about in the country. They are really developing as a cricketing nation. It must be heartening for other Associate teams to look at them and see the progress they are making.

MH: Yes, definitely. They’ve put in a lot of hard work over the years and it has come to fruition. Along with Ireland, they are the top two teams in the Associates at the moment. I would say Scotland and Holland are just below Afghanistan and Ireland. We’ve beaten Afghanistan regularly as well in the past and I am very confident we can beat them again even though it is going to be very tough in their conditions.

PP: You’re 29 years old at the moment. Would you say you are at the peak of your career?

MH: Definitely. Last year, I had a very good season. It’s not just been one season. I’ve had a quite a few good seasons with bat and ball. You get to a certain age and you get to know your game a lot better and extract more confidence from your previous performances. I just feel very confident at the moment. Insha’Allah, I hope to have a good start to the season in March.

PP: Are there any ambitions you want to achieve before you retire from the game?

MH: I’ve got a lot to achieve before I retire from the game. I am not thinking of retiring yet. I am really enjoying the game and I want to play more World Cups. There is a massive thrill in representing your country on the world stage. This year is huge for the whole team to qualify for the World Cups happening in 2013 and 2014. This year is massive in terms of my ambitions and the team’s ambitions.

(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)