CricFit correspondent, Yash Kashikar, had the privilege of a conversation with Indian cricketer and skipper of the Vidarbha cricket team, Faiz Fazal.
Here are the excerpts:
Q. Please talk us through your formative years. Did you always want to be a cricketer?
Faiz: To be honest, initially I wanted to be a doctor (He chuckles). I started playing cricket at the age of 10 years. In fact, my father was among the Vidarbha Ranji Trophy probables but unfortunately due to some family issues he could not pursue the game further. So, he always wanted me to be a cricketer. I learned my cricket from him and he has really worked very hard for me. We had a turf wicket at our home and my father used to roll it and make sure that it was always in a good condition. In fact, he was the one who used to bowl for hours to me. So, that is how it all started and since then I just fell in love with the game.
Q. How was Faiz Fazal as a student? Did education take a backseat once you decided to pursue cricket professionally?
Faiz: Actually, I was always among the top 3 students in my class till 8th standard. However, after that, I started focussing completely on cricket and since then all other things got sidelined. Yet, my family always supported me through this journey. As I said, my father has been my coach since childhood and my mother has sacrificed a lot too. She never forced me to leave cricket for the sake of academics. So, cricket was always a priority.
Q. You were a part of the U-19 WC squad in 2004 but unfortunately, you missed it because of an injury. How different would your cricketing journey pan out had you made it?
Faiz: I don’t really believe in ‘what if’ situations. To be honest, I always look at it in a way that if I had played that tournament and not performed well then I would have been nowhere. So, I always take a positive out of whatever happens in life.
Q. As a part of the Rajasthan Royals squad you have shared the dressing room with your idol Rahul Dravid and a legend like Shane Warne. So, what kind of inputs did you receive from them and how was the overall experience?
Faiz: Rahul Dravid has always been my idol. In fact, during my early years in cricket, I used to watch him practice for hours at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. His down to earth nature, dedication and hard work has always fascinated me. In fact, I have always believed a lot in working hard on the process rather than anything else. Also, we had someone like Shane Warne in the dressing room, who is actually one of the best cricketing minds I have ever come across. So, overall it was an amazing experience.
Q. Unfortunately, after the 2011 season, you have not been picked up by any franchisees in the IPL. So, how do you look at it?
Faiz: To be honest, Test cricket has always been my priority. It’s not that I don’t like to play the shorter version of the game but Test cricket has always captivated my mind. In fact, I really rate Ranji Trophy a lot and consider it as a very important aspect of a cricketer’s life. If someone has played more than a hundred first-class games then that is also an achievement.
Obviously, playing in the IPL is also a great experience because it’s a big stage and people come to know about you. However, the character and the maturity level which a player gains after playing Ranji Trophy is something different.
Q. You have played a lot of league cricket in England where the conditions are quite challenging for a batsman. So, how has the experience of playing in those conditions helped you to improve your game?
Faiz: I really like to go and play in England, Yash. I have always enjoyed the challenge which you face as a batsman when you play in those conditions. The bowl keeps moving around and also the wickets are not very good. In fact, the season starts in April and during that period the conditions are quite cold over there. So, initially, it also takes time for you to get acclimatized to the weather.|
As an opener, going there and facing the new ball is something which I have always enjoyed. And it has really helped me to tighten up my game.
Q. Having scored a match-winning century for Rest of India (ROI) in the finals of the Irani Trophy and Deodhar Trophy as well. Were you expecting a national call in 2016 or was it more of a surprise for you?
Faiz: To be honest, initially I was not aware of the fact that there was a Zimbabwe tour at that time. I was busy playing league cricket in England and was completely cut off from the happenings in India. My job was to perform well in domestic cricket and I had done that. So, I was actually expecting an India A call because there was an Australia tour around the corner. However, all of sudden I came to know that I was selected for the Zimbabwe tour. So. I was over the moon and playing under the captaincy of Mahi (MS Dhoni) was a superb experience.
Q. Please talk us through the experience of donning the Indian jersey for the very first time?
Faiz: Actually, it is very difficult to describe that experience in words, Yash. Before leaving for Zimbabwe we had a team meeting in Mumbai. So, as soon as I checked into my room the first thing I saw was the India cap and a jersey with my name written behind it. I was simply looking at it and admiring it. In fact, I still get goosebumps when I talk about it.
Q. For a major part of your career, you have opened the innings. But given a chance, do you see yourself adapting as a middle-order batsman as well?
Faiz: Surely, I feel that I can bat at any position. Of course, given a chance, I would love to open the innings but I am quite confident of playing in the middle order too because I think I can play the spinners quite well.
Q. How did the team prepare before going into the recently concluded Ranji season (2017-2018)?
Faiz: I actually joined the preparations a bit late because I was busy playing league cricket in England. We did a lot of match simulations and training before the season. So, that actually helped us a lot and everyone was up and ready for the season. In fact, I always believe that fitness plays a very important role in the sport. It is more of a chain like if you are physically fit then your confidence level also goes up and eventually, your performance also starts getting better.
Q. Of course, Vidarbha went on to win the Ranji title this year for the first time in its history. However, even when we look at the performance of the side over the last few seasons, they have done quite well. So, what according to you has been the difference maker for the team?
Faiz: I think the biggest turnaround has been the change in the mental side of the game. In cricket or for that matter in any sport, you have to be quite strong mentally. If you want to win the Ranji Trophy or play at the higher level then you need to have a strong self-belief. Once that comes in then the things automatically start reflecting in your performance as well.
Also, over the last few years, a few professionals have come in to play for Vidarbha like Wasim Jaffer, Hemang Badani, S. Badrinath, Ganesh Satish and others. So, these guys have really helped the local players in improving their game. And not to forget the contributions of the coaches like Paras Mhambrey and now Chandrakant Pandit sir. In fact, these people are so experienced and knowledgeable that you only learn from them.
Q. The additional responsibility of leading a side sometimes brings the best out of a skipper or it may also take a toll on their individual performance. And because you have been leading Vidarbha since your age-group cricket days. What is your perception of it?
Faiz: Since my early days in cricket, may it be the Under-14 or Under-16 level, I have led almost all the sides that I have played for. So, I have always loved leading the side. In fact, I feel that it brings the best out of me.
Q. In spite of 14 years of experience and some brilliant performance in the domestic circuit your only international game till date has come when a second-string Indian team toured Zimbabwe in 2016. So, what keeps you motivated for so long?
Faiz: I think the game itself is the biggest motivation for me. And I don’t really look at the things which have happened over the years as hardships. If you love something then you have to accept whatever comes along with it whether it is good or bad. A lot of people say that it is a sacrifice. However, I believe that if you want to achieve something in your life then obviously you will have to sacrifice a few things for it. So, it is as simple as that. I love cricket, so, I will have to work hard and accept whatever happens over the course of time.
Q. You played a decent knock of 55* on your debut but since then you have not been considered for the national side. So, are you still eyeing a national call?
Faiz: Absolutely, I am quite confident that I will make it to the Test side soon. When I got my first national call everyone said that I was very consistent in the domestic circuit and that got me a place in the team. So, performing well is in my hands and that is what I always concentrate upon. The rest is not in my control.
Q. Please share your fitness mantra with us?
Faiz: To be honest, these days I train a lot. I run, spend a good amount of time in the gym and focus a lot on my core sessions. I make sure I that I never skip them. Also, I have worked really hard on my diet as well. I don’t consume sugar or any spicy food and that has actually me to get fitter.
Q. With a lot of money coming into the game, the youngsters these days are more enticed towards T20 leagues. So, having played first-class cricket for more than a decade now. What will you advice to the budding cricketers?
Faiz: I think every cricketer should dream of playing for their nation. Eventually, that is what matters the most. Nothing else can replace it. The feeling of getting the international cap and your name behind the t-shirt is a different ball game altogether. And if you want to represent your country then obviously you will have to work hard and grind yourself in the domestic circuit. There is absolutely no shortcut to it.