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Usman Afzaal didn't get to play a Test in England's tour of India in 2001 but got a chance to experience the flavour of the country
February 26, 2006
Usman Afzaal didn't get to play a Test in England's tour of India in 2001 but got a chance to experience the flavour of the country.
I've got great memories of the last India tour. It's a great culture to play cricket in, and that's something that the guys who haven't been before will be looking forward to. For me it was a real eye-opener. I really enjoyed going and feeling what international cricket was all about, even though I didn't play a Test match.
I was taught by Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher, and for me, whether I was in the team or not, that was invaluable. We all had a role and that's what team games are all about. Maybe at that age I didn't realise it, but now I do. Looking back, we all had an input, whether it was making sure the guys on the pitch were being looked after, or voicing our opinions in the dressing-room so that our thoughts could be used as a strength for the England team. Everyone worked hard as a team with Nasser and Duncan, and helped to produce something remarkable.
Nasser is one of the best captains in the world - I can't say fairer than that. He was criticised for some of his tactics on that trip, but he stuck by them and they worked. As far as I'm concerned, Nasser and Duncan had to dream up something different to take on India in those conditions, and I thought they were fantastically done.
For me as a British-Asian, it was a lovely honour to go to India, because there's nowhere around the world where the cricket culture is quite like it is out there. For me, I regarded the trip as a lifetime opportunity. I had my fair share of followers on the tour but you get that home or away. It was just a nice feeling to wear the England shirt.
I've certainly got no regrets about the India tour. I worked hard, we did well as a team, and if anything I've learned a lot from then to now, and I'm a better cricketer and a better human being for it.
I'm 28 now, so there is still a chance for an international comeback, but most importantly I've just got to do well for Northamptonshire, keep scoring runs for them, and if I do get the opportunity try to take it with both hands if I can. But until I get picked elsewhere, my cricket starts and finishes with Northants.
We've got a young side at Wantage Road and under David Sales and Kepler Wessels, we're getting better and better and are hoping to become a side that can win trophies. I'm working damn hard and enjoying my cricket, and that's the most important thing. If you don't enjoy your cricket you're not going to enjoy coming to work.
I'm also doing a lot of work for the Ace Academy, which runs coaching courses across the country. The concept is called "no boundaries", for all ages, all races, men and women. I recently took a group of youngsters to Pakistan, because I thought it would be a good experience for them and also fantastic progress in my own knowledge of cricket.
In the past few years, the Ace Academy has produced five or six professional cricketers, in the name of Nadeem Malik, who plays for Worcestershire; Bilal Shafayat, who plays for Notts, and Shaftab Khalid, who's going on the England A tour to the West Indies, and has done superbly well in a short space of time. My aim is to give a bit back to the game, whether it's for England or for Northants, or as a coach at the academy. That's the way I look at life.
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