A veteran of two Under-19 World Cups and marked as a future prospect for the Pakistan team, twenty-one-year-old Imam-ul-Haq continues to impress all with some robust batting performances. He recently scored a fantastic double-hundred in the final of the Quaid-e-Azam trophy and overall has a amassed over fifteen-hundred runs in just twenty-nine First-class appearances.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the left-handed Imam-ul-Haq spoke about his excellent performance in the recently concluded Quaid-e-Azam trophy, the effects of the pressure of being related to the former Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, the progress of his former Under-19 team-mates Sami Aslam and Babar Azam and his own aspirations to play for Pakistan.
By Amir Husain (23rd December, 2016)
PakPassion.net : Scoring a double-hundred in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final and in front of the television cameras must have been a special occasion for you?
Imam-ul-Haq : It was an amazing experience as the tournament had been a bit up-and-down for me. So, this was a great way to end the tournament. Also, as a unit the HBL team deserve lots of appreciation for the way we came back into the game after a disastrous start which made us pretty much the underdogs in the final. Yes, we were concerned about our position in the game in the first innings but then domestic pitches have been like that in recent times. The pitch in Karachi was generally good but earlier on there was moisture and I am sure any team would have collapsed on a similar pitch. However, the HBL batting have shown their ability to recover and comeback from similar situations as we did against KRL in an earlier game. In the final, we came back from a similar situation very strongly but Salman Butt batted wonderfully and we lost due to the first innings score by WAPDA.
Going back to my own form, it seemed to improve drastically in the Super-Eights stage of the tournament and the double-hundred in the final and in front of TV cameras was really special. I do hope that I get more opportunities like that and I can perform like this in the future again.
PakPassion.net : You had a very good season in this edition of the Quaid-e-Azam trophy, what would you put that down to?
Imam-ul-Haq : To be honest, I work very hard on my batting in every season. Even in the off-season I go to the NCA and work with my fitness trainer Yasir Malik as fitness training is very important for players in modern cricket. Apart from that, I obviously spend a lot of time in the nets as well. In this season, my first seven matches weren’t that good for me in terms of performance but I would like to thank my parents for their prayers and HBL management for their faith in my abilities. I firmly believe that if youngsters are given chances to prove themselves, they will deliver and that was what happened in my case as well. I do believe that my good performances in this season were due to the excellent support I received from HBL.
PakPassion.net : You are someone who has progressed through the system via the junior teams such as the Under-19s. Has that helped in your development as a batsman?
Imam-ul-Haq : As a player one of the most satisfying things is to know that you are improving at every stage of your development. My journey to First-class cricket was through the Under-19 team and I can tell you that this stage is a great platform for every youngster to show their abilities to the world. Playing for Pakistan Under-19s is like playing at the international stage; such is the importance as well as the appreciation players get at that level. I was lucky to have played in two World Cups where in the 2014 edition I was the top scorer for Pakistan with 382 runs to my name. All in all, such tournaments help you gain confidence and give you a taste of international cricket which makes the eventual transition to the senior team much easier.
PakPassion.net : Who are the cricketers you admire and wish to emulate on the field?
Imam-ul-Haq : I may not consider Virat Kohli as my role model but what I do love is his passion for the game, in every game he plays. I really admire his body-language and attitude and watching him gives me a lot of inspiration.
PakPassion.net : Do you feel there is additional pressure on you to perform as you are Inzamam-ul-Haq’s nephew?
Imam-ul-Haq : To be honest the pressure is immense due to me being Inzamam's nephew. This is Pakistan and there is a lot of talk about this and comparisons are drawn which I would love to ignore but at the end of the day, I am a human being. In the corner of my mind there is always a thought that I should be doing better as I am related to Inzamam who was a great player. But, now I have an extra burden as he is also the Chief Selector. So, in many ways, I now must perform even better before anyone recognizes me as a good batsman in domestic cricket.
PakPassion.net : What's the best piece of cricketing advice your uncle Inzamam-ul-Haq has given to you?
Imam-ul-Haq : You may not believe it but he rarely talks about any technical aspects of my game. He does, though, give me support and always advises me to go out there and enjoy myself in the middle. He always says that if you have the ability, then go and perform and stop thinking about the “ifs” and “buts” and have faith in oneself. He does avoid cricket topics in general as I believe he doesn’t want to pressure me too much. He made one exception recently as he was present at the National Stadium Karachi due to his position as Chief Selector and he witnessed my double-hundred. Later, in the evening, he spoke to me about the areas that I needed to work upon such as the tactics when building such an innings as well as a good strike rate which I should have maintained.
PakPassion.net : What is Inzamam like when he is not talking about cricket?
Imam-ul-Haq : Well as you know he is my uncle and in a family setting, we do all meet up and have a chat about different subjects. One aspect of Inzamam’s personality that many don’t know about is his humour and wit. Let me tell you that when we all meet-up as a family, he does joke around a bit and he is a very funny guy. And no, we don’t talk about his run-outs but he is very impressed about my running between wickets and feels that I have fast legs.
PakPassion.net : You are someone who can bowl a bit, are you developing that side of your game too?
Imam-ul-Haq : I started my career in cricket as a leg-spin bowler and my intention was to become a bowling all-rounder. I did enjoy and was enthusiastic about bowling although my preference was to bat. The only reason I started to bowl was that since I started playing cricket at a young age, my club management decided to shield me from injury whilst batting by making me bowl more than bat. I still do have intentions to develop my bowling skills and my coach at HBL, Aslam Qureshi, has always said that I can become a top-quality all-rounder and he insists that I bowl more. In fact, in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final against WAPDA, I did bowl and managed to take a wicket as well. I guess the issue is that our domestic cricket is pretty tough for an opening batsman. There is a lot of pressure on openers as the wickets are not suitable for batting. In order to keep my focus on my job as an opener, I keep my practice limited to batting alone so really do not get time to work on my bowling skills as much as I would like to.
PakPassion.net : Sami Aslam and Babar Azam are former team mates of yours at junior level, thoughts on them?
Imam-ul-Haq : They are two amazing prospects for Pakistan who have also shown us good examples of their talents. On top of that they are also excellent humans and God Willing, they will perform for Pakistan for many years to come. These two are doing an excellent job for Pakistan as we saw in England when Sami Aslam stepped up and put in some brilliant scores when even his seniors were struggling and under extreme pressure. This is just the start of their careers and I do hope and pray that they will improve further. If you look how Babar Azam, even though he got out on a low score, batted in Brisbane against Australia, you would have noted that his body language was incredible; he was looking to score runs and he was fully switched on for the task ahead. Also, Mohammad Nawaz who is a good friend of mine, is also on tour in Australia and I am proud to say that players from my Under-19 days are doing extremely well and this can only bode well for Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net : Are there any areas of improvement in your game that you wish to concentrate on?
Imam-ul-Haq : No batsman in the history of the game has ever stopped learning whilst they have been playing. There is always room to improve. For me, as Inzamam has also pointed out, there is an issue of lack of focus when I am batting. I need to do away with negative thoughts and concentrate better to avoid playing a casual shot and needlessly losing my wicket. In the past, I have gone past fifty but not completed a century which is very irritating. Thankfully my season ended on a high note but I know in my heart that I have still some work to do to get over this weakness as well as also work on some power-hitting and sweep shots which are good run-getting shots for any batsman.
PakPassion.net : In terms of your own prospects, you must also have been encouraged by the progress of Sami Aslam and Babar Azam?
Imam-ul-Haq : Of course, every player in the country dreams of and strives to represent Pakistan at the highest level. This drive is what keeps you motivated all the time. As for me, I don’t want to look too far ahead. I want to keep my feet firmly on the ground and perform in whichever game that comes up next. I don’t want to be a one-match wonder but someone who can consistently perform in all matches I play. I am a highly motivated and a hard-working player and I will continue doing my best to perform and leave the rest to the Almighty and the selectors. I do wish to play for Pakistan and once I get in the team, I want to perform well enough to be in the team for the next seven to eight years or however long as I can do.