IPL 2012:  It was tough to choose between country and cricket, feels Azhar Mahmood

Azhar Mahmood said, he hopes to make this stint with IPL count with more impressive performances AFP

By CricketCountry Staff

Mohali: Apr 29, 2012

Kings XI Punjab player Azhar Mahmood on Saturday said, it was a tough decision for him to choose between country and cricket. Pakistan born Azar has accepted British citizenship in 2011 on the basis of which he has acquired visa to play in India.

“The move to county wasn t a tough decision to make. I was in and out of the Pakistan side since 2003. I would be picked for one tournament and then be dropped despite doing well. It was very frustrating. When Saqlain Mushtaq asked me if I wanted to play in the county, I played for a month. Next year, I got into a five-year contract with Surrey,” he recalls.

Born in Rawalpindi, Azar Mahmood shot to fame with his three test centuries against South Africa in 1997-98. While rest of the batsmen struggled to get going Azhar made an impact. Wisden even rated his 132 at Kingsmead as one of the best innings of all time.

Unlike most Pakistani pacers who are swing bowlers, he is a useful English-style seam bowler, who can chip in with wickets in time of need.

“When I joined Surrey, they allowed two overseas players in a county side. In 2008, immediately after I got my nationality changed, they brought out a rule of having only one overseas player. I spoke to Rob Key of Kent who said he was keen to have me in the side. I believe God has promised you your living and he worked things around to help me in every way. I m not playing international cricket, but my life has been very good,” Azhar was quoted as saying by iplt20.com

Azhar feels its way different playing on wickets in England compared to the sub-continent pitches. “The conditions there are very different from Asia. I learned so many things there, including how to play swing bowling better. I understand the game much better now and my temperament has improved. In this game, you learn something each and every day. Playing with players from different countries and cultures teaches you a lot about the game and life in general.”

Speaking about his experience in the Punjab camp Azhar said, “When I joined the squad, every single player welcomed me with open arms. There are a lot of Punjabi-speaking players, and I being a Punjabi myself helped me gel within the team well.”

After 17 years of first class cricket Azhar finally embraced the shortest format of the game. After making successful contributions to Auckland Aces and Dhaka Gladiators, he finally made it to the Indian Premier League. Kings XI Punjab purchased the all-rounder for $200,000, double his base price of $100,000.

“After international cricket, IPL is the biggest cricket tournament in the world. It features all world-class players and every cricketer wants to be a part of such tournament. I had put my name forward for the IPL last year but missed out due to lack of good performance. This season, I batted at No.3 for Kent, Auckland and Dhaka and got enough opportunities to score runs. I applied again, and now I m really glad to be a part of the IPL and KXIP,” he said.

However he admits experiencing the big tournament nervousness but eventually overcame it. “I was a bit nervous ahead of the first game against KKR, but I didn t play that game. Whenever you go to a new tournament and a new team, you feel a little conscious. But when I got a game, I played naturally. There was no pressure. I knew everyone was behind me. There were a lot of messages from the IPL and from England as well. That was a boost,” said a positive looking Azhar.

The Pakistan born cricketer feels his Punjabi background makes him feel at home in Mohali and moreover enjoys the love and affection that Indian fans have showered on him.

“I remember coming to play cricket in India for the first time in 1997. Before that tour, I played four or five ODIs and no one knew me in Pakistan. On that tour, I once went shopping in Hyderabad. When I came out of the shop after 10 minutes, the road was totally blocked. There was a huge mob wanting my autograph and photos. There was so much love and support and it hasn t changed after all these years. The Indians love the game and the cricketers, irrespective of which country they come from,” recalls Azhar.

He concludes on a positive note saying, he feels lucky to play the sport he loves so much. He hopes to make this stint with IPL count with more impressive performances.