Talent carries little significance when it comes to success in international cricket. The thing that really counts is how disciplined one is in one’s life and sport.
“It all depends on how much hunger you carry for it [success]. You need to know the purpose you are playing cricket for. You have to plan your career accordingly and discipline is certainly one thing that can take you forward,’ said Mohammad Hafeez, from Pakistan cricket captain, while talking to Community.
Hafeez, who is also dubbed ‘professor’ for his deep knowledge of the sport, has represented Pakistan in Test, One-Day International and T-20 cricket. His career spans over 16 years, starting from 2003 and still counts. The all-rounder was recently in Qatar, for the first time, to take part in a T-10 cricket league organised by the Qatar Cricket Association.
Coming from a family with humble origins in Sargodha, in Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab, Hafeez has had to struggle a lot to make it to wear the national colours. “It was really a matter of pride for my family when I made my debut in 2003. I come from a small town where people usually do not have many facilities and vision when it comes to playing cricket professionally. I am grateful to Allah Almighty for the blessings. My every success is owed to the prayers and encouragement I got from my parents.”
Recalling his early days when he was struggling to find his feet as a professional cricketer, Hafeez said: “When I used to practice and train, people would call me mad. They thought that I would never make it to the national team. I had no qualms about it because they had never seen somebody from their area going to the international level.
“Initially, my parents were against the idea of giving all my time to cricket. They wanted me to be an engineer. Now, I am a parent and can realise the concerns of my parents back then. Cricket is a kind of blind date. You never know where you are going to end up. Unfortunately, the sports culture has not developed much in Pakistan.”
Hafeez took his passion for cricket seriously and felt the burden of proving himself. “When I made my decision to follow cricket as my career, I was 19. I realised that this is my decision so I have to prove it right. I worked hard but could not get selected for the under-19 team. But I did not give in or get disheartened. I think we should never lose hope and continue hard work. It took me four years to get selected for the Sargodha team. To improve my cricket, I moved to Lahore. Later, l went to England to play league cricket, which helped me a lot in improving my skills.”
The cricketer believes that one should not get carried away with distractions that come along the way. “I remained focused in my efforts to make it to the national team. I faced many distractions but did not succumb. I resisted all temptations such as getting settled in England etc. My resolution bore fruit in 2003 when I joined the Pakistan squad. It has been a beautiful journey so far. I think cricket has made me a better human being. I have learnt many things from the sport.”
So how did he get the moniker ‘professor’?
Hafeez smiled and said: “I think they gave me this name for my inquisitive nature and understanding of cricket. In fact, I give a lot of respect to cricket as a sport. I follow my discipline very seriously. Initially, an agent of mine who got my contract done to play in UK first called me ‘professor’ because I used to ask too many searching questions.
“One day, Rameez bhai [Rameez Raja, a former Pakistani cricketer and now a TV commentator] relayed on air that I am called professor. People noticed it and (that’s how) it came to be.”
Like many other cricketing heroes of Pakistan, Hafeez also got inspired by Imran Khan, Pakistan’s greatest cricket captain and now the country’s prime minister. “My ambition to play for the national team was sparked when Imran Khan came to our school to raise funds for his cancer hospital. His charismatic personality made me wonder about my own desire to play for the Pakistan team. But I realised later what it actually means to play for Pakistan. It is a great honour and responsibility.
“I am a huge fan of Saeed Anwar [a former classy batsman from Pakistan]. I always enjoyed watching him bat. Besides him, I am a fan of Brian Lara [a former batsman from West Indies].”
Hafeez did not find it hard to change over from tennis ball to hard ball cricket. “It was not difficult for me because I made up my mind to play only hard ball cricket. “(But) like all young boys, I started playing with tennis ball. We, however, cannot carry on doing both. It makes harder to master the hard ball format, if you continue using tennis ball. I quit playing tennis ball cricket when I was 19.”
As for Hafeez, the off-spinner, a little pause before delivering the ball is his trademark. “The pause was a natural part of my bowling action. I started bowling following the action of famous Pakistani off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq. I have worked on the pause and now it has gone away.”
In response to a question about why it is hard for Pakistani batsmen to score on bouncy surfaces and pitches which favour swing bowlers, Hafeez said: “In Pakistan, we do not have bouncy tracks. This however, is not an excuse. As an international batsman one has to perform everywhere in the world. The reason behind the continuing failure of Pakistani batsmen in countries like Australia and South Africa is (down to the) absence of proper infrastructure for domestic cricket in Pakistan. If we accept that there are too many flaws at the domestic level, we will one day be able to overcome the shortcomings. I hope the authorities will give due attention to this issue.”
Sharing his piece of advice for youngsters, Hafeez underlined the importance of being disciplined. “First of all, having talent is something very minor. The most important thing is how disciplined you are as a player. What actually matters is your hunger for the sport and the objective you want to achieve. I would ask youngsters to have a broader vision and focus on serving the country as a player.
“I will also stress on being fit. If you are not physically fit, the ones who are will definitely outplay you. We should have a disciplined lifestyle, both on the field and in everyday life. I will ask young players not to rely on talent. They should get disciplined and continue working hard.”
The cricketing star is very optimistic about the future of cricket in Pakistan. “One should always be optimistic. However, we should also be realistic at the same time. There is not much development of infrastructure at the domestic level. That is necessary to enable our players to compete well at the international level. We need to facilitate the young generation.”
Hafeez agrees that the strain on the players has increased due to the frequency of international matches. “Cricket has become very fast and we have to adapt accordingly. I think Pakistan lags a little behind international standards of fitness. The concerned authorities need to raise the standards in Pakistan. We need to work for our future and set new goals for ourselves.” 
Related Story