November 29, 2001

Siddiqui: I just wanted to reach where I am today

He once walked into an airplane, pre-empted the steward, grabbed a carton of soft drinks and went about distributing it to all the passengers on the aircraft. In keeping with that incident, he sports a mischievous grin that rests awkwardly on a strapping, muscular frame. Iqbal Siddiqui now smiles broader than ever after being named in the squad for the first Test against England at Mohali.

The lad from Aurangabad has indeed come a long way since his first class debut. "I made my debut for Maharashtra in the Ranji Trophy knock-out match against Railways in 1992-93. Quite a long time ago," he admits. But then again, neither the conditions nor the wickets in India make for ideal fast bowling conditions. Siddiqui, however, put in the hard work, shelving frustration and waiting for his chance. "I just wanted to reach where I am today and see my name in the Indian team," he says.

To make it to the Indian team, Siddiqui has had to toil, both in terms of learning his craft and building muscle and endurance. "If I had not worked hard, none of this would have come to me, even if a bit late. When matches neared, I used to work even more, keeping myself fit during the games," he says.

More than once in this period of waiting in the wings, Siddiqui has been to England in the Indian off-season, turning out for club sides there. Although he recognises some of the benefits in doing so, he clearly has no illusions about the matter. "It is no use really; after all, we don't play for county teams, just small club sides. It just helped me keep fit, bowling every week and training and things like that," Siddiqui explains. With a chuckle, the Maharashtra seamer adds, "After all, we are not such big cricketers in India that people will prepare wickets specially for us in the winter."

Although he has bagged over 230 first-class wickets in all, it is only now that the selectors have given him the big break. His four-wicket haul against England at Jaipur certainly helped tilt the scales in his favour. Siddiqui, however, is quick to state that it is not a one-off performance that has earned him his place. "It is not one innings or the other where I have performed well. Year after year, my aim has been to surpass the previous year's achievements. I'm just fighting with myself," he says somewhat philosophically.

Like him or not, think him worthy of a Test spot or not, Siddiqui is sure to catch your attention. He is the kind of character that the Indian team could do with. Jovial yet deadly serious about his work, casual yet intense with the ball in hand, Siddiqui might just carve himself a place in memory at Mohali.