Rao Iftikhar Anjum isn’t the first name that spring to mind when you think of Pakistani fast bowling. But his record shows that he deserves a lot more respect.
Unassuming, modest and hardworking, the right arm pacer played for Pakistan just after two Ws had exited the scene. Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Sami, Sohail Tanvir, and others were in and out of the team due to varying issues. Always ready to put in an earnest performance was the man from Khanewal.
From facing up to some of the toughest batsmen in the world, to becoming Pakistan’s premier fast bowler for a period, he has seen it all. Now associated with the Pakistan U-19 team, we chatted about his cricketing career, the 2007 World Cup, and his new role as a coach and more.
When did you start playing cricket seriously and tell us about your journey in domestic cricket?
I am from Khanewal but started my cricket in Islamabad. Like most cricketers, started with tape ball cricket before switching to hard-ball in 1996. In 1999, I made my first-class debut. I had an excellent start. In 2003, Rana Naveed ul Hasan was the top wicket-taker and I was second with just one less wicket. On the back of that performance, both of us were picked for the national side.
When you debuted, we were playing India regularly. Australia had a top batting line up. In fact, all teams had top batsmen. What was your plan against them?
I am lucky I played against so many great batsmen, absolute legends of this game. I used to bowl in middle overs and power play was of twenty overs at that time. So my plan was always simple, break the flow of runs and try to get a breakthrough for the team. Like Sehwag, Tendulkar, Lara, Gayle, Sangakara, Ponting, Gayle, Gibbs, Kallis, and many others, they were all very attacking players. You cannot relax when you are bowling against these great batsmen. They had the ability to hit the bad ball, so I tried not to ball bad balls and stick to line and length which suited my field.
After a fairly successful 2004 to 2006 period, things came crashing down in the 2007 World Cup. We lost to Ireland and Bob Woolmer passed away. What are your memories of the World Cup?
That was very tough for everyone on the tour. Nothing went in our way on that day, And it still hurts, the way we were eliminated in the competition. Then after that, we had to stay there to help in Bob Woolmer’s investigations.
After that World Cup 2007 to around mid-2009, was the best period of your career. You picked up more than 50 wickets in 28 matches. Did you change something technically in your bowling or were you more experienced as a bowler and that helped?
I think 2007 was my best year confidence and rhythm wise but I wasn’t playing much and then I started playing regularly in those two years, (hence the results).
Then suddenly you were dropped from the team. Did the selectors or coaches give you any reasons behind the dropping?
No, nobody told me anything.
You are coaching the Pakistan U-19 team. What is your approach to coaching?
I feel very proud that I am back in the game I love. These are different roles though as a junior selector and bowling coach. Coaching for me is all about giving confidence and consistent chances to the youngsters so they can show their capabilities.
What can tell us about the current U19 cricketers?
We have some very good young U19 cricketers. Our job is to ensure that their focus is on cricket and representing Pakistan in the future. No stopping until you reach there, that is my message.
You played the match in which Captain Shahid Afridi chewed the ball. That was a tumultuous series for the team. What are your memories of that series?
That was my last game for Pakistan and it was at the end of a very tough tour. Yousaf Bhai was captain initially then he rested in that final game and Shahid Afridi became captain. A lot of unpleasant things happened in that game and it (ball chewing) was one of them.
Once while playing in England you complained about bins and that became like National news. What happened there?
I moved in a house where bins were missing and local council said they can provide me after six weeks but my club representative highlighted it in a local newspaper to help me and this way the news went out of Stoke on Trent.