DUBAI: A couple of weeks back, when Pakistan announced their One-Day International squad for the five-match series against Sri Lanka, questions were raised over the selection of Imam-ul-Haq. Imam, who received his maiden ODI call-up, had proven his credentials as far as his cricketing skills were concerned but being the nephew of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s chairman of selectors, meant that his position in the team automatically came under scrutiny.
Having impressed in the Under-19 World Cup in 2014, Imam, a left-handed opener, has been showing a steady cricketing growth. With hundreds against Nepal and Hong Kong for Pakistan Under-23 in March this year and his recent first-class ton for Habib Bank against FATA in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Imam was on the selectors’ radar. When a slot opened up with Azhar Ali being left out of the Sri Lanka ODIs due to a knee problem, the 21-year-old left-hander was roped in.
“Look, you have to notice the talent and what he can do. His performance was good in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Then he scored two hundreds for the Under-23 team in the triangular tournament in Bangladesh. He scored a hundred in Sialkot. Even Mickey Arthur and Sarfraz Ahmed gave (their) opinions. We all consult each other,” Inzamam had said, defending the selection of his nephew.
Imam then chose the best way to silence the critics, coming up with an excellent performance on debut that helped Pakistan clinch the ODI series against Sri Lanka with two matches remaining. The left-hander played the anchor’s role in a chase of 209, scoring a 125-ball 100 to become only the second Pakistan player after Saleem Elahi (102* against Sri Lanka in 1995) to register a ton on debut.
“Very proud about it,” said the youngster on Wednesday (October 19). “Honestly, I didn’t know about that record. Once I had gone back to the dressing room Sarfraz [Ahmed] told me. Great feeling to score a hundred on debut. It’s a proud moment for me, very happy to do it for Pakistan,” added an elated Imam after the game.
When asked if he felt any pressure playing for Pakistan considering his relationship with the chief selector Inzamam, the youngster said it didn’t make much difference as long as he came up with telling performances. “It makes no difference to me because I have grown up in a (cricketing) family. I have self belief and I am mature. I have played in Junior World Cups and have performed well to win in domestic matches. My best answer is to perform. If I don’t perform then people will criticise.
“It’s not my fault that I am his nephew. I can’t help that. I am not answerable to that. The best I can do is to answer with my bat. I will have failures and every player has that failure,” added Imam.
Imam had to endure some nervous moments in the lead up to his ton and might have even missed reaching three figures when he feathered an edge off Dushmantha Chameera when he was on 89. While he was walking back to the hut after the inside edge, Mohammed Hafeez, his partner at the other end, stopped the youngster from leaving until replays confirmed the dismissal.
It so happened that ‘keeper Niroshan Dickwella had failed to collect the ball cleanly and Imam could heave a sigh of relief. Recollecting the moment, Imam said: “I was thinking that I had messed up a great opportunity to score a hundred. Thank god it didn’t carry and [Mohammed ] Hafeez told me to stop. It was a great feeling to get back and get that hundred.”