At a time when fast bowlers are losing their punch, Iqbal Siddiqui is a gentle reminder of what it takes to survive the grind of domestic cricket
He hit the winning runs in his only Test but never played another. Iqbal Siddiqui, an untiring warhorse, won many a battle on his own but failed to convince the authorities that he was a soldier for all seasons. He trained alone, still does, and ended a loner. No godfather meant an early end of the road for this medium-fast bowler from Aurangabad. But he never grumbled. “I was lucky I played one Test. Mr. (Padmakar) Shivalkar and Mr. (Rajinder) Goel were not that lucky even though they were great left-arm spinners,” Siddiqui pours his heart out.
Prior to his Test debut, he had taken seven for 91 in the Ranji match against Mumbai, adding two more in the second innings. The next match, against England XI at Jaipur, he impressed with four wickets in the first innings and one in the second. His victims included Mark Butcher, Marcus Trescothick, Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff and Mark Ramprakash. He had earned his call up to the national team.
There is an anecdote from that match at Jaipur. The India ‘A’ skipper Sunil Joshi was reluctant to give Siddiqui an extra slip fielder. The bowler was adamant. Joshi relented. “I had Butcher edging to (Abhijit) Kale at third slip.” Incidentally, Kale scored a brilliant century but failed to impress the selectors.
The Test debut at Mohali against England in 2001 is well-recorded in his mind. “I remember each delivery. I did not bowl a ball for a cut, no loose ball for a boundary on the leg side, no short ball. It was the effort of my daily hard work. Even today I go to train at 4.30 and bowl 10 to 12 overs for fitness purpose. The wicket of (Graham) Thorpe is vivid. He went for a drive and was taken in the slips.”
India had blooded new faces in the pace department. “The attack was new, I, Tinu (Yohanan) and Sanjay (Bangar). We had Anil (Kumble) and Harbhajan (Singh). It felt nice because I had earned a chance to play for the country after a long struggle. I just concentrated on putting the ball in the right areas and that is my lasting memory, pitching the ball up.”
And then, he was lost to international cricket. “I was told that I had got the opportunity because Zaheer (Khan), Ashish (Nehra), Ajit (Agarkar) and (Javagal) Srinath had not done well on the preceding South African tour. So the selectors changed all the bowlers.”
In the next Test at Ahmedabad, Srinath replaced Siddiqui. “Bangar suffered a hamstring injury and Srinath came in for the match. I went out of the playing eleven. When I asked (Sourav) Ganguly, he said, ‘you bowled really well (at Mohali) and that’s why you are in the 14. Srinath is our premium bowler and he comes into the 11. Tinu had taken wickets (at Mohali) so he also plays. At Bangalore, Ganguly bowled with Srinath and even Tinu was out of the eleven. They played two off-spinners, Sarandeep (Singh) and Harbhajan.”
The next series was against Zimbabwe and the selectors went back to Zaheer. As Siddiqui reflects, “We were not dropped but we were just left out. Like having a friend sitting on your two-wheeler; when you stop, you see another friend and ask him to sit without telling the one sitting to leave. This is what happened to me. Ganguly was comfortable with Srinath, Nehra, Agarkar. They were considered better than us. So I never thought I was dropped.”
Growing up in Aurangabad, he had little facilities. A barren piece of 22 yard was all he looked for. A bystander would act as the deep wicketkeeper and Siddiqui would give shape to his dream to play for India in such obscurity. “The thing is if you have to will to climb Mt. Everest you can. The will is important. I never dreamt of playing Test cricket. I only dreamt of playing cricket. I just wanted to bowl and go out and field. It did not matter if it was a gully match, club match, IOC (Indian Oil) match, state match, zone match or India match. Sachin (Tendulkar) used to bat and bat with (Ramakant) Achrekar Sir around. He was not bothered about the match. He was concerned only about batting and even after 25 years is still going strong.”
Terming modern bowlers as not hard working, Siddiqui reflects, “I used to bowl and bowl and bowl, at least 30 overs a day in matches at the Nehru Stadium in Pune. I never thought what will happen after the ball pitched. Before it pitched it was in your hands. So you needed to control that movement and of course, line and length.”
Siddiqui made his first-class debut in 1992-93 on a modest note, just one wicket against Railways. The next match he announced his potential against Tamil Nadu at Bhusawal, claiming six for 59 and four for 71 as Maharashtra won by ten wickets.
Among his first-innings victims were K. Srikkanth and V. B. Chandrasekhar. Some team mates mocked Siddiqui and called his performance fluke. “I wept that night and prayed for a second Tamil Nadu innings,” he recalls. To make his point, he added the same batsmen to his tally in the second innings too. “I met Srikkanth during the IPL in Pune recently. He did not recognise me but (VVS) Laxman, who had invited me, reminded him ‘Iqbal Siddiqui, fast bowler from Maharashtra.’ Srikkanth responded promptly, ‘Oh, your ball was my last in first class cricket.’ It was nice of him to have remembered that after 20 years. He had left the ball and I trapped him leg before. I have got many batsmen like that, leaving the ball and getting bowled or leg-before. I used to move the ball a lot.” Siddiqui, who bowled 18957 balls in 90 first class matches and finished with 315 wickets, quit in 2005. “I never had a guru. I enjoyed my cricket and am grateful to the game for giving me a good life.” The 38-year-old is working Manager (retail) with Indian Oil Corporation. “I played for them. Now I am working for them,” Siddiqui reiterates his philosophy of life and cricket.