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From 75-B to the big stage


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-Photo by AFP

US President Thomas Jefferson once said: “I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Pakistan's newly-found, hard-working paceman Aziaz Cheema is a prime example of this proverb.

The 32-year-old has stormed to the front of the pack of fast bowlers in the country, on sheer hard work. Just a few years ago, he was discarded by a selector who remarked derogatorily that at 30 and with his relatively short height, Cheema had no future.

But the inborn quality in Cheema, never to lose heart in an adverse situation – inculcated in him by his lawyer father and inspirational mother – has helped him surge to not only represent Pakistan but also get acclaim from all quarters. Since making his Test debut against Zimbabwe, Cheema has endeared himself to the coaches, captain and all his team-mates. Even the once unfavorable media sing praise for his hard work.

“Cheema always looks hungry for success,” said former coach Waqar Younis, who preferred the right-armer in the eleven against Zimbabwe in the only Test last September. It created a furore in the media, who wanted the experienced left-armer Sohail Tanvir to play. Younis’ confidence paid off after Pakistan rolled over the hosts.

“He showed a lot of hunger and with eight wickets in the match he fulfilled the confidence we reposed in him,” said Younis.

Cheema has not looked back since that Bulawayo Test. He was the player of the series in the one-day international (ODI) series against Zimbabwe and performed well in Pakistan's clean sweeps against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, whenever he was selected. And despite Wahab Riaz's comeback for the upcoming series against England, Aizaz is still favourite to be in the starting line-up.

Cheema’s story follows that of the many fast-bowlers in the country that have come through out of the blue. Born in a small village called 75-FB near Sargodha, he was brought up and educated in Lahore. He was lucky that a proper mentor was at hand at home as his mother, a teacher by profession, guided him in his studies. He studied hard and since most of his family members were in the education sector, he got little support when he picked up a bat and a ball.

“My mother and father wanted me to study,” the fast-bowler recalls.

“But cricket was my passion and I wanted to make my name but not at the risk of my studies. That's why I worked hard in both cricket and studies.” After completing his bachelors in commerce (B. Com), Cheema interned at a private bank but would sleep with a cricket ball. In 1996, Pakistan's quarter-final defeat against India at Bangalore in the World Cup hurt him so bad that it strengthened his resolve of making a name in the sport.

From Model Town Greens club in Lahore, he graduated to PIA and also played for Muridke Academy, where former Test paceman Aqib Javed burnished his talent.

“Muridke was a good place to learn and Aqib Javed worked on my action, run-up and increased my confidence level. That helped me a lot and I started to perform well in the first-class seasons.”

“I was determined to play for Pakistan so I worked very hard in first-class matches.”

“I used to make plans, while going in the team bus for a match. I would set a goal to take six wickets and do my best to live up to that plan.”

Hard work pays, always. Cheema became one of the leading fast bowlers in first-class cricket in Pakistan and it was in 2010 that his 56 wickets in just seven matches earned him a place for the West Indies-bound team. Bad luck struck on the eve of team's departure when he fell unfit and had to be replaced. But that too didn't dishearten him.

He bided his time until the tour of Zimbabwe and got his well deserved chance. “I am very happy to be in the national team.”

“I still have a long way to go and have many challenges to face,” Cheema says, but he is ready for the England challenge.

“I never get overawed by big names like (Kevin) Pietersen, (Andrew) Strauss or (Alistair) Cook, I just want to do my basics and if I am doing my basics I will get success,” said Cheema who wishes to bowl at Indian maestro Sachin Tendulkar soon.

“The best batsman I have bowled to is Kumar Sangakkara. He is very balanced and has a great technique. I wish I could bowl to Sachin and I am a firm believer that with my hard work I will come good against him.”

Shahid Hashmi is a senior sports journalist based in Karachi.

Comments (14) Closed

Dr. Salaria, Aamir A Jan 06, 2012 09:06pm
Hard work always pays huge dividends and there is no short-cut to success but hard work as proved by Aizaz Cheema. Best of luck to him in the upcoming series against England in UAE.
pakistani Jan 07, 2012 12:40pm
good luck in future series
Nasser Ali Khan Jan 07, 2012 03:36pm
What an excellent article by Shahid Hashmi, unexpected normally from a Pakistani. The theme is not "talent", an extremely over-used and over-emphasied term. As a nation and individual, we need to understand the benefits of (a) hardwork,(b) perseverence, and (c) not losing heart in adverse situations, as very clearly demonstrated in this wonderful and heart-warming article. These are the 3 best attributes, and having all 3 is a deadly combination. This makes "ordinary" people into great performers. Don't get me wrong; talent plays an important part too but it only goes this far. While we all appreciate the performance of Aizaz Cheema, he does not rank high in our thoughts(although I was terribly impressed with his attitude on the field watching him on tv)given the never-ending supply line of Pakistani fast and spin bowlers. It took the observational and very broad skilss of Shahid Hashmi to write an article on him; and additionally motivate those who read this article. And of course thanks also to Waqar Younis, our great bowler and also a great coach who helped Pakistan in reviving its fortunes. I have saved a copy of this article for my reference and to discuss with others. Cricket is not relevant here. We are talking life.
mansoor Jan 07, 2012 04:29pm
That show very precise and professional coaching from Waqar younus. Waqar younus in his stint perforemed really well as a coach although did bear lot of critisism.
Haris Jan 07, 2012 09:23pm
Well Said.... Totally agree
Taimur Malik Jan 07, 2012 10:01pm
While making to national side at 30plus itself is great achievement, in country where talent has to pay to make to national side eg Wahab Riaz. influence required to be in team eg. Imran Farhat. Best of luck to Cheema and Pakistan for England series. We have lots to settle with England and only big wins can achieve against poms..............
Umair Jan 08, 2012 12:04am
Nicely Written. Truly said its not talent, its hard work which got him green cap.
afzal Jan 08, 2012 01:51am
These young Pakistani players the way they are playing it will be tough to beat this team.England is also a very good team to beat it will be interesting to watch this series in UAE. Good luck Pakistan!
Dr Salman Ali (Sydne Jan 08, 2012 06:20am
I don’t intend to undermine or demean Mr. Cheema’s hard work or perseverance, neither am I, in any way, suggesting that he must have received any undue favors, but lets not fool ourselves; How many young cricketers from “less favored” regions of Pakistan, like Balochistan and Sindh, have worked hard their whole cricketing lives, have persevered and never gave up - till they dropped - but still couldn’t get a chance from Imrans and Younuses and Nur Khans and Butts and Zaka Ashrafs?? I am not refuting old clichés, hard work, a bit of luck, perseverance and blah blah blah, but let’s not pretend otherwise – Pakistan society is corrupt and biased to its core. People need a lot more than a bit of luck and perseverance etc, just to get their basic rights, let alone get “rewards”. It is good to write Platonic articles. It is even better to not lose focus from the reality.
Aamir Jan 08, 2012 11:12am
Media should also give coverage to Tanvir Ahmed who was overlooked after 16 wickets in just 4 test matches and star debut of 6 wickets against South Africa on a dead UAE pitches. PCB should recall him to give what left in him. This is really bad if a player is overlooked for age rather than performance.
Azhar damino Jan 08, 2012 11:42am
no doubt this artical is an inspirational one. aijaz cheema is a real hard worker and inshallah he will get success in the up coming tour of england in UAE .In the end i would say best of luck to cheema and the whole pak team//
Shavi Jan 10, 2012 02:55pm
@ Amir. And who will Tanvir Ahmed replace? Not Gul, not Junaid Khan not Cheema and not Wahab.
Hasan Jan 10, 2012 04:56pm
Dr. Salman, Lets be fair with the writer, it's quite an inspirational article. Else you expect him to be writing Imran Farhat story? You raise valid issues which may probabily warrant a few other articles. But I would been happier to see your fair critism of our society appearing as from within. You are being no help by critisizing something that you clearly dont own.
Halley Jan 12, 2012 03:48am
Aizaz deserves every success and reward that he achieves. Never has there been anyone more deserving. He genuinely does work harder than any player I have come across and despite many set backs he comes back stronger each time and works even harder than before. To go through the pain barrier as he does is an inspiration to any young cricketer....if there were a few more players on the scene like would be in a very good place!