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Faiz Fazal Interview: My aim always was to get big hundreds

7th Mar, 2024

Former India cricketer and Vidarbha captain Faiz Fazal called it a day as he retired from professional cricket following Vidarbha's 2023-24 Ranji Trophy match against Haryana at the VCA Stadium, Civil Lines in Nagpur. It was an emotional moment for Fazal as he walked into the sunset on the same ground on which he announced himself in first-class cricket in style with a brilliant 151 against Jammu & Kashmir 21 years ago. From that special day on, he never looked back and was a consistent performer in the first-class and domestic arenas. In a career that stretched over two decades, the Vidarbha veteran scored 9184 first-class runs from 138 matches at an average of 41 with 24 centuries and 39 half-centuries. He finished with 3641 List A runs from 113 matches and 1273 T20 runs from 66 matches. 

He made his India debut on the 2016 tour of Zimbabwe and scored 55 not out to help chase down 124 in Harare.

The 38-year-old finished as the highest run-getter for Vidarbha in first-class and List A cricket. His meteoric rise saw him become one of the most successful Vidarbha captains, as he led the team to Ranji and Irani Cup titles in 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.

BCCI.TV caught up with Fazal and walked down the memory lane of a storied successful career, discussing his special India debut, the importance of Ranji Trophy, Vidarbha's golden period in the domestic arena, and much more.

 Excerpts from the interview:

 Let's start off with your Ranji Trophy debut, 151 vs J&K 21 years ago. What are your memories of that knock?

Twenty one years ago sounds so long, doesn't it? It was very memorable. I was just 18 and a half years old. I vividly remember that match, the start was delayed due to fog, it never happens in Nagpur. Maybe there was some good luck or something (smiles). J&K had a decent bowling side. We lost the toss and were asked to bat. I started off very nervous, but somehow managed to see off that phase and settle down those nerves. I went on to hit a hundred and was batting 120-130 odd on the first day. And the second day, I crossed 150 and was then strangled down the leg side, unfortunately missing out on a double hundred on my debut. I hit a couple of sixes out of the ground as well. It was a very interesting innings. Initially, when I started my career, I used to attack from the word go, but eventually it changed a bit according to the team's demands and added responsibilities. My aim was to score big hundreds in whichever match I played. It was in my DNA right from the time I started playing cricket. My dad, who was my coach, always used to tell me ‘you should always try to get big hundreds’.

Fast forward to 2024. You walked into the sunset on the same ground. How emotional was the last match and the day?

It's been more than 48 hours, and even talking about this is giving me goosebumps right now. Just before the warm-ups on the first day, I had decided to inform the team in the huddle about my retirement. The whole game was very emotional and teary. It still is.

How do you look back at your career?

I am very blessed and fortunate to have a 21-year long career. From the time I started playing cricket, my aim was to play for the country. I was very late to play for the senior team. I played age group cricket for India. A lot of things happened in those 21 years. That aim was always there to play for India, and after so many years, after striving so hard in first-class cricket, working day in and day out, and being very sincere and honest, I made my debut for India at the age of 31. It was a very short term, only one game, but eventually it happened. There are a lot of highs and lows. I've learned a lot from my bad days. I saw an interview of Rahul Dravid where he mentioned he was a failure because he had more failures than successes. It happened to me too. If you calculate, I've been a failure because the failures were more than successes. I had only 24 first-class and 10 List A tons from 138 and 113 matches, respectively. But I've learnt a lot in these 21 years.

Your career spanned more than two decades, what motivated you to go on and on?

The game itself is the biggest motivation for me. Even if I am playing gully cricket, tennis ball, rubber ball, or any level of cricket I play, I am always motivated. Being there on the 22 yards, batting for long...that used to motivate me a lot. It still does. I've just stopped playing professional cricket, but I will be playing league cricket and everything. 

 How much of a role did the Ranji Trophy play in shaping your career?

Ranji Trophy makes you tough. I've heard so many international players and coaches say our domestic cricket is tough. It must be the toughest in the world right now, and that's why we are producing so many unbelievably legendary cricketers so consistently. Recently, we’ve seen the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill and Sarfaraz Khan making their debuts. There are so many more because our domestic cricket is so competitive and intense. You've got to not just develop your game but also your fitness levels. Every year, I got tougher and tougher. 

You scored 9184 runs first-class, 3641 List A and 1273 T20 runs. What was the key to your consistency?

The intense preparations. We always had team practice sessions, but I always made sure that I did my separate batting and fielding sessions because if you want to excel and be among the top performers in the country and aim to play for the country, you have to look different, put your best foot forward, and be on your A-plus game every time. So, you have to prepare really well in all aspects of the game. I had a big support system behind me. Especially my dad, who instilled in me, and it's been in my DNA since I started playing cricket, that you've got to prepare for every situation. My dad had built a turf practice wicket just beside my house. Before a home Ranji game, I used to practice for 30 minutes on it, and my dad would give me a pep talk and poke me so that my adrenaline was always high and I was switched on. I am that kind of person who, when everything is smooth, will get out early. So I always used to like pressure, tricky situations, green tops and turners where it was tougher and I used to perform on those wickets. My dad had inculcated that in me.

An underrated aspect of your cricketing career was your slip catching. How much did you enjoy fielding in the slips?

I used to love fielding. I enjoyed it. Second slip was always my position, diving around and catching those blinders. Getting those run outs inside the circle. Every time I was on the field, I used to think the ball should come towards me. Since I was 5-6, I had that mattress spread on the floor, and I used to throw the ball on the wall and dive. So I had that ball sense. My hand-eye coordination was always good.

A fifty on India debut—what's the one memory from that day that will be etched in your memory forever?

It was very special. Getting that cap from our Captain Cool, MS Dhoni. It's such a fond memory for me. I always dreamt that I should play for the country, and when you realized that yes, you've got that cap and now you are going to play for India, I was very emotional and teary eyed. I remember Ambati Rayudu asking me, 'Tu kya royaa kya? Aaankh me aansu the kya? (Did you really cry?)' I was embarrassed to tell him that I was a little teary, but he said, it happens to every cricketer who dreams to play for the country, and it happened to him as well. He made fun initially, but then explained that it was natural. He is a dear friend. We won the game, and I remained not out—a memory I can never forget. Playing for the country was the biggest thing that happened to me, getting that India cap from MS Dhoni.

Did MS Dhoni have a chat with you before the game?

When he gave me the cap, he just said, 'You've been doing really well till now, just do the same, don't change anything’. It helped me a lot; I was calm while batting. He was very happy that I was not out, and we won the game. He is a lovely human being, down to earth and humble.

Talk us through those 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons where Vidarbha went from underdogs to champions. How did you manage to achieve that?

In those years, we were very diligent, consciously putting in the effort. We were giving too much time to our preparations as a team. There was no overthinking. We were giving more time to the sport. We stayed together. There were many committees — travel, food, entertainment, etc.—so we were thinking of being together as a unit. So, we all knew each other more. Chandu sir (Coach Chandrakant Pandit) played a really big role in doing all that. Those preparations gave each and every individual that extra confidence that we could go there and beat any team. The match simulations helped us a lot. We checked our boxes consistently to prepare for every aspect of the game.

Which was your favourite knock of your first-class career?

The 75-run knock against Kerala in the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy semi-final in Wayanad. The match got over within two days. It was a horrible wicket, where it was seaming around and the bounce was inconsistent. We got 208 and beat them by an innings, bowling them out for 106 and 91 in the two innings. Before that match, I was batting in the nets, and Chandu sir was watching, I was batting horribly in that session. I was furious, so I came out and told Chandu sir, 'I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, I am batting horribly'. He said don't worry, when you enter the field, just watch the ball and play; don't think too much; and don't judge yourself in this net session. I remember before that game, Jalaj Saxena mentioned that Kerala is the best bowling side in the country, so something like that puts more pressure on you. When I went out to bat, I actually kept it very simple; I was just talking to myself, 'watch the ball and react'. I also got four slip catches. So that knock and game is very dear to me.

What was the biggest learning from your career?

Being honest and humble is the key, along with meticulous preparation. Humility is very important. Ultimately, after your career, whatever you do, how good a human you are will be with you.

Your advice for the budding youngsters who are looking to make a mark in domestic arena

Aim high. In your subconscious mind, always aim to play for the country and not just the IPL. People are very short term these days, they don't want to work hard and want everything in life. That will not work, it will be temporary and for a very short time. Be humble, honest and love whatever you are doing. Aim to play for the country, keep working hard and don't worry about the results.

What will you miss the most about playing cricket?

Having that pressure (laughs). Going there and seeing off the new ball, I will miss that a lot. I will miss my teammates, those dressing rooms, the banter, everything.