"Only when I fail in the middle should people point fingers. I am shocked when I hear that I don’t deserve to be selected."
It was at the C.C.C nets behind Nishat cinema when I saw Javed Miandad’s nephew for the first time. The 13-year-old boy rode on the reputation of his maternal uncle. He seemed to possess talent but so did others, though, what made him exceptional were the genes of the greatest batting icon Pakistan had ever produced. Due to his pedigree, Faisal Iqbal was special from day one.
The first major opportunity that came for boys his age was the 1996 U15 World Cup. Extensive trials were held across all provinces and the team selected showcased some of the best adolescent talent in the country.
Taufeeq Umar, Yasir Arafat, Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik came through the talent hunt while Bazid Khan s/o Majid Khan and Imran Qadir s/o Abdul Qadir also made it to the fray. From Karachi emerged the highly gifted Hasan Raza and team captain Faisal Iqbal. At first glance, Faisal appeared to be an astute leader with a good cricketing brain. The young team performed well, but eventually lost in the final at Lords to arch rivals, India.
From an early age kids understand how the parchee (recommendation) system works in Pakistan and embrace the dynamics of provincial and personal biases, it is an integral part of cricket’s sociopolitical culture that stretches across all levels of the sport in the country. The Pakistani youth is cultivated in this environment, while some manipulate and benefit from the prevalent climate, others just learn to live under it without much choice.
Faisal always came across as a bloke who had gotten a head start.
On his debut in New Zealand at the age of 19 he met with immediate success, scoring 42 in the first innings and 52 not out in the second. He followed that up with a 63 in his next innings but more importantly he had spent almost 10 hours at the crease in his first three Test innings, showing stomach for the big stage.
His dream start in international cricket did not last very long as his average quickly fell below par. Yet, he remained on the fringes of national selection through domestic success. Though, given his lineage, one usually assumed nepotism.
When there is a tough series, Faisal goes to bat at three. When there is an easy series, Faisal is the 12th man. It has always been this way.
He averaged in the mid twenties yet made it to the squad regularly. He appeared as excess baggage that Pakistan carried around, usually only sighted on tour at short leg or carrying drinks. It is baffling that he has been on the squad for most part of the last decade, but has played only 26 games.
With a decent young crop of middle-order batsmen recently unearthed in Pakistan, why do we still see Faisal’s name on the squad? If he was getting special treatment, why wasn’t he getting any games? His consistent selection and even more consistently being kept on the back burner displays an odd strategy adopted by Pakistan cricket, that is, if they have any.
So what’s Faisal’s side of the story? The 31-year-old batsmen tells all in an exclusive interview with Dawn.com
Hi Faisal, I hope it is not too late for you?
FI: Its 1:30 in the morning (in Lahore) but it is okay. When I am going on an assignment I try to adjust my biological clock according to the country I am touring. (It was 10:30 pm in Harare, Zimbabwe)
It is a very short tour with back to back games.
FI: Yes, that is how cricket has become. (For Pakistan)
You have been in and out of the team for almost 13 years; it’s a long time.
FI: The only reason I have been able to survive in this set up is my mental strength. I have put my head down and kept scoring in domestic cricket to keep my career alive. (Scoring 15,000 runs averaging over 40 in first class and List-A cricket)
Do you think you have done justice to your talent?
FI: Since I have made my debut, I have been kept as a replacement player. Usually been given single games in between long gaps; sometimes one game in 12 months. Plus, they played me at different batting positions all the time, how is a player meant to perform or settle? (Played in positions 3,4,5,6 and 7 in 26 games)
Why do you think you have not been given an extended run in the team?
FI: It has been a 99.9 % disadvantage in my career to be the nephew of Javed Miandad. There has been a lobby that has been against him from his playing and then his coaching days and continues to be so. I have just been an easy target and have gotten caught in political cross fire.
But there is a public perception that Faisal is selected because of Javed Miandad.
FI: Public follows the direction of the wind and maybe do not know that the poor guy has scored up to the throat in domestic cricket so he can be selected. I have been labeled all my life and it’s a tag difficult to get rid of. (Branding)
Does being from Karachi also affect you?
FI: Ninety per cent being Miandad’s nephew and 10% being from Karachi. Historically, every player from Karachi is affected, you know how it is, this is normal. (The provincial bias)
In so many years of international cricket, which has been your favourite innings?
FI: Surely the one against India, it was in Karachi and my century helped Pakistan win the Test match and the series, it is what is most important, for the team to win. It was also my comeback game after a break of three years. (His comeback ended during the series in England, his return lasted only eleven innings; 139, 2, 60, 5, 0, 48, 3, 29, 0, 11 and 58*)
My personal favourite was the courageous one against Australia, or Shane Warne rather. (This one)
FI: That is the innings after which the lobby started working against me, instead of encouraging young cricketers, methods are used to suppress them.
Hasn’t time broken your resolve?
FI: I take things positively; maybe I would not have become as good a player as I am today if I had not gone through the process. Scenarios create a person and mine has made me into the cricketer I am today. It has only made me work harder and improve my game.
But you are not 22 anymore, time is running out.
FI: The advantage that I got was that I started very early. Now I can use a lot of that experience.
You shouldn’t lose hope. Misbah and Hussey are prime examples of careers that took off very late.
FI: I never lose heart.
How can you justify your poor Test average?
FI: The normal thing is when you fail you go back to domestic, improve and make a comeback. Then you improve your average. There are a lot of examples like Hafeez and Misbah that have made comebacks and have improved their averages. My domestic performance shows that I am a better player than I used to be but I cannot improve my average sitting on the toilet seat. (Mathew Hayden averaged 26.4 in his first 20 innings played between 1994 – 2000, though, Misbah and Hafeez might be better examples in Faisal’s case)
Some people feel that Faisal does not have a place in the squad.
FI: Only when I fail in the middle should people point fingers. I am shocked when I hear that I don’t deserve to be selected. What have I done wrong in the last couple of years not to be selected? (He has not played a Test match in three and half years but has been a part of the squad for a year and a half)
You sound like a victim.
FI: After I retire, I will write an autobiography with the title ‘victimized’ or something. (He better make some international runs if he wants to sell his book)
But you have been given so many chances.
FI: There has always been propaganda and a plan to destroy my career. If you carefully study my career, they always wanted me to fail. I have gotten chances but they have not been fair. (Every third game has been a comeback game for Faisal)
Your wife is a South African, ever thought of settling in South Africa and playing in the leagues there.
FI: I am a nationalist and have never thought about anything but Pakistan. My heart has always been in Pakistan. The prime example is when I rejected my contract with the ICL, only because I wanted to play for Pakistan. The rest of them went for the money, I did not. (Integrity seems intact)
Do you have any regrets?
FI: I have only two regrets, once I got out on 48 at Lord’s and once on 48 in Melbourne. I really wanted to score big in those innings.
You were dropped after that series in Australia, maybe not being able to convert that 48 was a part of the reason.
FI: I made a comeback by scoring in the middle-order but I was forced to go one down. I only failed in that one match in Sydney and I was dropped again. Playing Australia in their den at their peak was difficult and I thought I did okay at a batting position that was not even mine. I was shocked when they ousted me. (Faisal’s last comeback in 2009 lasted for only 7 innings in alien conditions; 57, 6, 67, 15, 48, 27 and 7).
When the public sees you score in international cricket maybe the perception will change.
FI: People who follow cricket have seen me do well domestically, even in the T20 final recently. I was the mainstay of my team’s middle-order. It is all I can show, I cannot take my clothes off and show them. (Can only score where he plays)
It already seems very crowded in the Pakistani middle-order, do you see yourself getting a go in Zimbabwe?
FI: I always prepare myself 100% when I go for an assignment for Pakistan, my job is to keep myself fit and give my best shot. I can only do what is in my control. I cannot worry about what is not in my hands.
The selection committee’s job is to select the team; they cannot select the playing XI. They have been picking you for the last 10 years but you have very little game time to show for it. You cannot blame PCB for this.
FI: It is a question for people to analyze and answer, I never take any names that this one or that one did not play me for this reason. I can only say that I am in the team because I have runs (domestic) behind me to merit selection. It is the job of the journalist or the media; I will look like a fool if I start name dropping. (Silence says a thousand words)
In a tour like Zimbabwe, if Pakistan wins the first Test maybe the bench strength will be tested.
FI: Yaar (friend), the biggest question is, who will want to sit out? (laughs) Nobody will!
Pakistan plays such little Test cricket that everyone is as it is usually well rested.
FI: When there is a tough series, Faisal goes to bat at three. When there is an easy series, Faisal is the 12th man. It has always been this way. (Played 5 Test matches at home and 21 abroad, averages 43.50 at home)
How long have you been on a central contract?
FI: I was off it from 2010 to 2012 but earned it back by scoring heavily in the domestic. I have not been given the chance to use my good form at international cricket even though I have been a part of the squad. (In 2012/2013 season, he has averaged 60 in Presidents cup, 82.33 in Faysal Bank ODI cup and 42.6 in Presidents Trophy)
If PCB pays you then shouldn’t it also play you? Why are you on Pakistan’s payroll if you are not being utilized?
FI: I keep waiting for my chance. There are other contracted players also who are not getting a chance; Abdul Rehman is a good example. You have to understand that only XI can play and no one wants to sit out for even one game (If you pay them, play them)
You think it is because of insecurity?
FI: Yes, insecure of their place in the team and also financially insecurity. You lose money when you don’t play and it is important for everyone to get maximum financial benefit. (Cut throat competition)
You are now almost 32; have you set yourself any targets?
FI: My target is to play for Pakistan in all three formats; the reason is that I am performing in all three formats in domestic cricket. I would love to serve Pakistan rather than play league cricket and waste my energy.
I hope you do well in Zimbabwe if you get the chance to play, good luck.
FI: Insha’Allah (If God will’s it)
Faisal has played 26 Test matches with ‘EIGHT’ staggering comebacks, usually in unconducive conditions. He has been shuffled in the batting order every time he plays. It has been a recipe for failure.
With a batting average of 26.76, he should never have played 26 Tests or been in national contention for so long. But with the way he has been handled, it would have taken extra ordinary brilliance from Faisal to better his average. Unfortunately, only glimpses of such excellence can be seen in his career.
Whether Faisal benefited from the politically plagued system or has been victimized by it will always be argued upon. There might be some truth on both sides of the coin, like there usually is.
However, one thing is established for certain. The rotten system robs the country in more ways than one.
Faisal was definitely more talented than his numbers reflect. When a youngster is given a chance, an environment should be created for him to flourish in. Instead, far too often in Pakistan it is designed for him to perish under. In addition, Faisal might have been given far too many opportunities to make comebacks, at the cost of a younger talent missing out. In the process, Faisal, his possible replacement and the national cricket team, all have been deprived of realising their true potential.
Mismanagement of talent has ruined many batsmen in the recent past, Mohammad Wasim, Hasan Raza, Asim Kamal and Fawad Alam could possibly have served Pakistan a lot more than they were allowed to.
When a cricket board backs a player, it has to put its faith in him and let him give his best shot. When it drops one, it should look elsewhere to find a replacement rather than exercise the same options year after year.
In the words of Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
More chances are that the trend of Faisal’s career will continue on the same path and he will warm the bench with little space for him in the Pakistani middle-order, barring injury to the others.
At this stage of Faisal’s career, the mantra should be pretty simple; use his experience and current form and play him. Or, select someone who is the future of Pakistan cricket and give him exposure. Faisal has been a leisure tourist on PCB’s tab for way too long and he could live without another African Safari.
Tragically, after eighteen years from when I saw Faisal for the first time at late Ahmed Mustafa’s coaching clinic, he still lives in the large shadow of his uncle Javed Miandad. While some think it is his blessing, according to Faisal’s own assessment, it has been his biggest curse. Either way, it has been a case of human resource mismanagement by the authorities that run cricket in Pakistan.