KARACHI: Just 10 years ago, Muhammad Abbas was running in to bowl on the dusty streets of Sialkot district. Now he is comfortably topping the wicket-taking charts in the domestic Quaid-e-Azam Trophy for the second year in a row. It has been a long and awe-inspiring journey, yet it may all have been so different but for one lucky coin toss.
Unlike other children in Pakistan, it wasn’t until he was 12 that Abbas started dabbling in cricket. “They would only make me field, refusing to give me a chance with either bat or ball when I did start playing.”
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Helping his father at his humble grocery store in the village of Jethikay, Abbas would ask his father every day to let him play cricket with the other boys on the street.
Eventually, his father relented.
“Even fielding used to give me so much happiness,” he said. “I began playing tape-ball cricket on the streets and fields of my village. With time I realised I enjoy bowling more than batting.”
Off to the city
In four years, the boy who was used just as a fielder had outgrown his small village and his friends advised him to go try his luck playing club cricket in Sialkot city.
“I was worried about how my parents would react when I tell them that this is what I want to do but they were very supportive.”
And so in 2006 began Abbas’s journey into proper cricket. “I gave several trials in Sialkot and was selected for most clubs but I chose to turn out for VIP Cricket Club,” he said.
Along with that came a call-up to the district U19 side, where he was the top wicket-taker in 2008-09 with 42 victims to his name.
To make ends meet, Abbas worked at a local property office and his office timings meant he would often show up late for the U19 training camp.
“The coaches told me I could not train if I turned up late but I told them about my job issues so they relented,” he said.
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Tossed into the team
Training was one thing but being chosen for the first eleven was another. Abbas remained on the peripheries of the team despite impressing his captain Khurram Shahzad.
Shahzad argued Abbas’s case to the coaches, who still weren’t convinced. In the end they decided to toss a coin to decide the youngster’s fate — a 50:50 chance on his career. Shahzad won. Abbas was in the side.
“That toss changed my life — it gave me the chance I needed and I took five wickets in the very first match,” he recalled. “From there I was selected for the regional academy; topping the U19 bowling charts and claiming the man-of-the-match in one of the finals.”
Despite his performances, Abbas was overlooked for the Pakistan U19 team. A call to the Sialkot first-team came nonetheless, and from 2008 to 2013, the young pacer from Jethikay wore the colours of his district.
He then left for PTV and has now been playing for KRL since 2015.
Abbas has gone from strength to strength since joining one of the country’s biggest departmental sides.
Last year he was the top wicket-taker with 61 wickets in 10 matches. This time around he has bettered himself; having already taken 61 wickets in nine matches.
But his strong domestic performances haven’t been noticed by the national selectors. “This has not demotivated me — I am still confident of taking wickets with my style of bowling,” said the fast-bowler who relies primarily on accuracy and seam movement.
Like every other cricketer in the country, Abbas hopes to one day don on that famous Pakistan green. “I have proven myself in the domestic circuit by being the top-scorer two years in a row,” he said. “I am optimistic my chance will come.”
Abbas is confident of enjoying a long and storied international career. But for now, that young wide-eyed villager is eternally grateful that Shahzad called correctly on that fateful toss all those years ago.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2016.
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