Exclusive Interview with Iqbal Abdullah: Bringing home the U-19 WC was very special: Success isn’t given, it is earned on the field by persistent hard work and determination. This is the line that best describes cricketer Iqbal Abdullah…Watch, listen, learn and adapt is what he does all the time. He believes in looking forward and always aims to do well and reach the next step in his career. He played an important role in helping India win the under 19 World Cup. He is best remembered for “The Rising Star Award” that he received during the IPL and has played for some great teams like KKR, Rajasthan Royals and RCB. Along with being a wicket taking bowler for Mumbai, he is also a talented lower order batsman and an athletic fielder too. CricFit.com author Binaisha M. Surti met him at the Mumbai Cricket Association where he spoke to her about his journey from Azamgarh to Mumbai, India winning the Under 19 World Cup and lots more.
Coming from Azamgarh in UP, how did you develop an inclination towards playing cricket? Moreover how did you come to Mumbai?
Iqbal: I was always interested in cricket right from the beginning. (Smiles) Even today I clearly remember that in school when my teachers asked me what I wanted to become I would say “A Cricketer”. When I was small we did not have a TV at home, so we used to run to someone’s house in the neighbourhood to go and watch the matches. Sometimes it so happened that too many boys would be watching at the same time, so the family then would not like it and would switch off the TV. We used to hide and wait outside as to when they would on it again. Further talking about Mumbai…the Anjuman school were looking to make a cricket team. Earlier their school group had been to Azamgarh and they saw me playing there. They approached me to join the school if I was interested in playing cricket. Since I was from Azamgarh, coming to Mumbai was a dream as it was a very big city. At that moment I did not take up the offer. I did not have the backing to come to Mumbai all alone. Later my brothers and friends encouraged me, saying that since you are getting an opportunity to go and play cricket in Mumbai you should take it up. Since where I lived we used to play tennis ball cricket and just have small tournaments, there was no scope to grow as a cricketer there. I thought about it and my brothers too supported me, so that is how I came to Mumbai to pursue my dreams.
Further when you came to Mumbai how challenging was it for you to climb up the ladder and make your way into the Mumbai Team?
Iqbal: I am a strong believer in God and I never doubt my ability. I believe in myself that whatever I do I should give my best. I never have that habit of going and asking others about how I have performed. I know when I have done well or have not performed according to what I should have. In Azamgarh there was just 1 ground so when I came to Mumbai, I went to play a practise match at Azad Maidan. When I entered the ground, I started wondering what was happening as there were so many people there. First day I felt as if I had come to the wrong place. But I bowled and batted well in that game. Further a lot of people spoke to me and praised me for my efforts, so then I decided to stay back here. I later played in the Harris Shield and performed well in that tournament and we went on to become champions that year. It was a great moral boost when the team did well. Then Mumbai selectors showed a lot of faith in me and I was selected in the under 17 camp and then played for the under 17 Mumbai team. We went onto play the finals and it was unbelievable as I scored many runs and picked up a lot of wickets throughout the tournament. From then onwards there was no looking back. The selectors kept their faith in me and I performed well.
Who are those important people who helped in shaping your cricket career?
Iqbal: Firstly my elder brother supported me a lot. We had a shop in Azamgarh. We all had specific timings to sit in the shop. I was given the afternoon slot but it clashed with my cricket timings. (Laughs) So many times it would happen that I would close the shop and run off to play. Since I played well, people convinced my brother to allow me to play. So many times he would sit in my place and motivate me to go and play. Later in Mumbai, in my school the principal would decide that whoever would be the best performer would get prize money. I always looked to give my best for the team. I won that award quite a few times. Further a trust also handed over a cash prize to me which was very handy in buying my new kit.
You played an important role in helping your team win the India under 19 World Cup in Malaysia. How has that experience been for you and how did this particular tournament help you become a better cricketer?
Iqbal: The under 19 World Cup had been a great experience. Before that we toured Sri Lanka and South Africa. We gelled very well as a team before the World Cup itself. Me, Virat, Jadeja, Saurabh Tiwary got along very well. We would play in state matches as well, so we knew that if we all played together in one team then we would be a great side. The World Cup was very important for all of us and when we went for it there was no doubt in anyone’s mind because we knew that we will do well. As we had played a lot of cricket together we knew each other’s strengths and we had great bonding too. Further, in the finals we scored less runs but still we believed in ourselves and went on to win it. To bring home the under 19 World Cup was very special. After the tournament we had to hand it over in the BCCI office and as I was from Mumbai I had brought the cup back with me. It just happened that the weekend came in between and the office was shut. So I had to take it home…and I kept it very carefully for 2 days. I always keep learning a lot of things from people, no matter how big or small they are. I would always be talking to players around me. After this tournament I went on to play for KKR in the IPL. That was the best thing that happened.
Who has been your biggest inspiration when it came to you taking up cricket?
Iqbal: I have been following Daniel Vettori since childhood. When I was young I used to bowl fast, but in between fast bowling I would bowl a slow delivery that was spin (laughs). I have always liked Daniel Vettori as a player. It was always a dream for me to become a slow left arm bowler and it did come true. Last year I was with him during the entire season. I have not seen a person like him before…because even though I would play in the game or not he would individually work on my bowling with me for a long time. That was a great feeling because once upon a time it was my dream to meet him and now I have worked with him. It was special as I shared the same dressing room with him too.
Which according to you brought you in the lime light: Domestic cricket, playing for India in the under 19 World Cup or IPL?
Iqbal: For me it happened step by step starting from the under 17 age group as I performed well, it came in the newspapers and further I played for India in the under 19 tournament and then I was lucky as I went on to play in the IPL. Gradually I came into the lime light.
Normally the T20 format is more batsman friendly while the spinners can be at the receiving end sometimes. So how do you deal with pressure situations like these?
Iqbal: If you start thinking about these situations then one might as well not play. If you are in a field like this where all are trying their best then you cannot let any kind of fear set in. But I always try and bowl according to my strength because T20 is such a format where in 1 over the whole game can change. Plus even batsmen know that it takes just 1 ball to get them out. So it is both ways. Since I have been playing for so many years now it has become a habit. I just want to play well and I want to reach the next step.
Now along with being that wicket taking bowler for Mumbai, you are a handy batsman too. Are you equally working on both aspects?
Iqbal: Firstly I consider myself a bowler and batting happens to be a plus point of mine. I feel that whenever I pick up wickets, it motivates me to perform well with the bat too. On the other hand, even if I have not picked up any wickets I know that I have the batting option too where I can contribute with for my side.
Every cricketer has some or the other superstitions. Do you have any before a particular game?
Iqbal: I always pray before I play especially before going into bat. I never wear sun glasses while fielding (smiles) because when I have worn them I have dropped a few catches.
4 days cricket, ODIs, or T20 which format brings out the best in you?
Iqbal: I like all 3 formats and I do not want to be tagged as one particular format player. I like playing 4 day cricket in whites as it tests your stamina, temperament etc. while the T20 format is a quick game but it also takes a lot of focus and energy. In a short period of time you have to think quickly. In Test cricket you have many balls to play with and there is room for improvement.
Earlier in IPL you went on to win “The Rising Star” award. Today when you look back, would you say that this was the season that gave you the added boost in your career?
Iqbal: Yes, because when you achieve something that you have aimed for you do feel proud. Then you have to try and keep up to that standard all the time. The IPL has been great for me as I have learnt a lot when you play with or against some of the top players like Jacques Kallis, Daniel Vettori, M. S. Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir. They all have achieved a lot. You learn so much when you see how they approach their game, their fitness regimes, how they go about with their net sessions, then how they bat, what is their thinking like during the game. These aspects bring about many changes in you as you see, learn and then try and do the same.
Would you like to go back and open your own academy someday in Azamgarh so that you can help more kids take up cricket?
Iqbal: Yes definitely. In fact even now when I go to play club level games I always try and see if there is any kid who needs financial help to buy a kit. This is not something to talk about, but I always try and help such people. I would love to help many more needy kids who want to take up the sport.
Iqbal Abdullah is all set to play the most awaited rapid fire round
Your closest friend in IPL: Dinda
Things that you enjoy the most other than cricket: I also like watching movies, being with friends and love spending time with my fish at home
Your favourite format: I like all 3 formats
Virat Kohli the captain is: Now he is cool
Something that your fans do not know about you: I play T.T quite well
Winning the under 19 World Cup was: A dream come true
Your stint with KKR: It was a good team to play for
Memorable moment with KKR: It was great to be with Shahrukh Khan and the best part was in the dressing room when we would be seated on chairs he would come and sit down on the floor… he never made us feel in any way that he was a star or our boss.
When not playing cricket: I like doing social work
Your fitness mantra: Gym, training and running
Things you do during a game: I like being around positive people
Toughest batsman you ever faced: Chris Gayle
Cars or bikes: Cars
Favourite holiday destination: Italy
Tips for young bowlers: Work hard, believe in yourself and never give up
Your lucky charm: My family
Message to your supporters: Pray for me and I will always try and fulfil all the dreams that you have seen for me