In Pakistan, cricket is a part our lives – from my 81-year-old grandfather to my seven-year-old brother Saad, cricket is indispensable.
It was different in my childhood, when Ainak wala jinn was my favourite television show, which also sowed the seeds of my interest in cricket. My uncle used to record cricket matches on his VCR and one day he asked me to do the recording for him while he was at work. I didn't want to sit in front of the TV for seven hours for a cricket match, but he made an offer I found hard to resist: one rupee for every match and re-runs of older episodes of my favourite show. The first tournament I recorded was the 1995-96 Singer Cup, where Sanath Jayasuriya hammered Waqar Younis and Ata-ur-Rehman (the Mohammad Sami of 1990’s), and made a world record 48-ball-100.
My interest in cricket started building up slowly and the first match I saw as a fan was the Pakistan-India quarterfinal of the 1996 World Cup. It was the beginning of a craze. I remember once we couldn't find Shahid Afridi's record-breaking innings (37-ball 100) and then somehow I found it for four times the money. I didn’t hesitate and watched that Afridi innings with the entire neighbourhood. A few months later, I started waking up early for the World Series in Australia (1996-97). I was a real cricket fan by then but the match which forced me to pick up the ball was Pakistan vs India at Madras (now Chennai) in 1997, where Saeed Anwar played one of the all-time best ODI innings.
In the beginning, my favourite players were Saeed Anwar, Wasim Akram and Moin Khan. I started my cricket career as a wicketkeeper-batsman in our gully (where my highest score is 616). One day I dropped a catch, and the following day my captain dropped me. That’s when I decided to forget about wicket-keeping and switched my priority to fast bowling. I started off by copying Wasim (Akram) bhai's action and run up. I picked up the action really quickly, but I couldn’t bowl fast.
Then came the Rawalpindi Express (Shoaib Akhtar) and I started copying his action. I could bowl very fast with his action at that time and I was also a huge fan of New Zealand's Geoff Allot (WC 1999's joint leading wicket-taker with Shane Warne). I was a fourth-grader then and started dreaming about playing for Pakistan, but sadly no one played hard-ball cricket in my village (Sayden/Hattian, Attock), where grounds were not available either. The city was 23 kilometres away from my home and I couldn't afford to travel. I finally got to play hard-ball cricket in college.
On the first day of the college team's trials I picked up a cricket ball for the first time in my life, bowled my first delivery with a 20-yard run-up and it turned out to be a beamer. The second ball was also a beamer. I was trying to bowl as fast as I could. I abandoned the Wasim-bhai approach and tried Daniel Vettori’s action. The third ball wasn't a beamer (thankfully) because I emulated Vettori's action and it was bowled with a four-yard run up. I bowled two overs as a spinner and regained my confidence. With that in the bad, I started bowling a bit fast, with Shane Bond's action because it was working well for me. After bowling eight to ten overs, I was the first bowler to be picked. I played two practice matches but unfortunately developed a shoulder injury. Seven days prior to our first match with Chakwal College, our principal decided to scrap cricket from the college due to financial constraints. We were very upset about this decision and offered our principal Rs. 1,000 per player but he didn't change his decision. Now only hockey, football, volleyball, badminton and athletics are left but very few students are interested in those games. Some of the players from our team, who could afford it, joined cricket clubs. I wanted to play club cricket too, but couldn’t afford it (I would have to spend 100 rupees on the daily commute and travel 30 kilometres). No family support and no college cricket meant the end of my aspirations.
Or so I thought, until 2009, when I saw a poster for the Mobilink Hunt for Heroes trials. My friends encouraged me to participate but I didn't want to because I knew it was near impossible to get through without a good sifarish (recommendation). My friends also told me Wasim bhai was going to be there and that convinced me to give it a shot. I travelled 30 kilometres but Wasim bhai wasn’t there. I guess it was just a rumour. I tried to bowl as fast as I could and ended up delivering two beamers. I somehow managed to get it together and bowled two overs without any more beamers. One ball was recorded in the range of 135 to 140 kph. I was hoping I would get picked because of my speed but again they picked a sifarishi. I gave up my dream of playing for Pakistan that day but continued playing tape-ball cricket.
In January 2010, a friend told me about Twitter. He said there are a lot of cricketers and celebrities on Twitter, where they also interact with fans. I got excited and joined. My first tweet was to Lalil Modi: “thanks for allowing Pak players to play in IPL.”
He replied saying: “We're happy to have Pak players in IPL hopefully now it will become more popular in Pakistan.”
Come the IPL auction, no Pakistani players were selected. The next day I gave him a piece of my mind and he blocked me. I didn't use twitter much after that until Pakistan's tour of England. Then the spot-fixing controversy happened. Those days were so tough.