India vs Zimbabwe: On his debut, Faiz shows finesse


Yakub Fazal left his medical retail store early, asking his assistant to run the show. He had just longingly switched on the TV to watch the third ODI of the India-Zimbabwe series, and the first images he saw were that of his son, Faiz, being handed the India cap by MS Dhoni. Yakub had seen enough. The day had finally arrived. And he didn’t want anything distracting him from watching his son live their dream, that of playing for India.

Yakub had returned home early one afternoon three weeks ago too. Zainub Fazal had been slightly peeved with her husband that afternoon. He hadn’t been feeling well that morning and decided to shut shop. But rather than get himself some rest, he had instead plonked himself in front of the TV and turned on a news channel. It was the day the Indian selectors were announcing the squads for the tours to Zimbabwe and West Indies, and as always Yakub was keen on finding out who would be making the cut.

“Arey, I don’t know why you keep doing this to yourself. It’s not like they are going to pick your son. Get some rest instead,” she said knowing very well the understandably ulterior motive behind her husband’s interest. But that day, as Yakub reveals now, he wasn’t expecting Faiz to get the nod. The 30-year-old left-hander hadn’t been part of the IPL and the senior Fazal was quite sure the selectors wouldn’t look beyond the IPL performers.

But then he heard a name that was all too familiar to him. He still wasn’t convinced though. “I luckily have the system where you can record stuff on TV. So I did that and actually rewound the thing and heard it again to be absolutely sure. And then I just let out a cry saying, ‘Faiz has been selected, and she came running out,” he reveals now.

He then immediately called Faiz, who at that point was in the north east of England, braving the bone-chilling climes of Durham representing his club Hetton Lyons. Once the junior Fazal accepted that it was actually happening for real, father and son both burst into tears. “We had waited so long for this. I always knew the day would come, but I had expected it much earlier,” says Yakub from Nagpur.

And by the time Faiz walked out to bat on Wednesday-slightly earlier than he and his team had expected-his father sat padded up too, at least mentally. The first delivery the left-hander faced was one that could easily have brought a premature end to his dream debut. For, Neville Madziva got it to pitch on off and move away sharply, just beating the outside-edge. Back in Nagpur, Yakub had skipped a heartbeat too, but he regained his composure almost immediately. “It’s ok Faiz, one ball at a time. It’s the new-ball, you will get beaten,” he shouted at the television set, almost believing that his son could hear him. Yakub had been an opening batsman too after all. In fact, he had even attended the Ranji trials once for the Vidarbha team some 30 years ago, only to fall short at the final hurdle. It was a setback that has been a major source of inspiration for him helping his son go the distance, even if at times it meant neglecting the business in favour of his son’s cricket.

He had even set up nets and practice area for Faiz while he was growing up, as they stayed in a part of Nagpur that was far from all the cricket activity. It wasn’t a case though of Yakub wanting to live his dream through his son. If anything, as Faiz entered his teens, the Fazals had a choice to make. As good as he was with bat in hand, the youngster was equally talented in music. And the doting father didn’t mind his son pursuing either of his passions. “We got him to learn classical music as a child but then he moved to light music. He is just a natural. Upar wale ka dane hai. Sur pakad leta hai. You could just hand him an instrument and he would pick it up very soon be it the mouth organ or the guitar. Even when he sings prayers, he’s so melodious,” says Yakub.

As it turned out, Faiz stuck to cricket. In a way, the bulk of runs he was scoring from a young age made the decision a lot easier. The genial opener rose through the ranks quicker than most throughout his junior career. He played for his under-19 state team when he was 14, and made his first-class debut for Vidarbha at 18, scoring 151 against Jammu & Kashmir back in December 2003. It was only an inopportune injury that came in the way of him being selected for the India U-19 World Cup squad in 2004. It’s ironic then that he’s had to wait so long for his first tryst with international cricket. But Yakub admits that it’s only he who has had to deal with bouts of anxiety as the wait grew longer and longer. Faiz was never fazed, and he kept plugging away. “Even if he was disappointed with not getting an IPL contract, he never showed it. He just wanted to play . So rather than sit and sulk, he went off to England. It’s just that he never got much chance to shine in Duleep Trophy or Irani Trophy. This year he did, and look how he’s made the most of it,” says Yakub.

According to his father, Faiz is a prankster, who can never sit idle at home, and even now despite being married with a daughter, the kid in him is very much alive. If it’s not pulling pranks, he’s mimicking someone or the other. But as he saw his son settle in at the crease at Harare, Yakub could sense his nerves. “But when I asked him later about how he felt, he said he was only nervous in the field. Once he walked out to bat, he was as calm as ever,” he says with a tinge of surprise.

Soon the shots started flowing, as Faiz unleashed a range of delectable drives, both through covers and a couple that went straight back down the ground. Yakub too was no longer sitting on the edge of his seat. Watching on TV from some 7000 km away though was much less nerve-racking, he reveals, than how it used to be back when father and son would open together for their local club team. “He was opening for us by the time he was 13. I would always be more focused on how he’s going and often get out as a result,” he says with a laugh.

As Faiz cruised through to his maiden half-century on debut and raised his bat, the senior Fazal was jumping up in delight too. “As a batsman he can easily play for another 6-8 years,” he says. He is quick to add though that neither he nor his son has given up on his second career choice, and that music remains as important to the family as cricket. “See even Sanjay Manjrekar recorded an album after retiring. I think there’s no age-limit to pursue music, and I’m sure Faiz will too. You should make use of all the talent you’re gifted with,” he says with paternal conviction.

Yakub is bracing up for a busy day at work on Thursday. For, he will not only be welcoming his usual load of customers but also many more who will want to seek him in his new avatar, the father of an India cricketer. And he knows that closing up early will not be an option.

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