Abdulla's silent redemption
Halfway into 2011, Iqbal Abdulla was feeling on top of the world. The left-arm spinner had been picked for the India A tour of England in 2010, and then won the BCCI's best allrounder award for the 2010-11 Ranji Trophy season, in which he scored nearly 400 runs, including a maiden first-class century, and took 27 wickets.
The trajectory of Abdulla's young career then took an abrupt turn for the worse. A torrid 2011-12 Ranji Trophy campaign, in which he took just 13 wickets in six matches, led to him being dropped from the Mumbai team. He struggled with being labeled a limited-overs specialist, and whispers of Abdulla having been led astray by IPL glitz started doing the rounds.
The following season did nothing to help Abdulla's cause. With Mumbai in a must-win position in their last league game against Madhya Pradesh, Abdulla dropped a regulation catch, which almost led to their exit from the tournament, that too in a televised match. Mumbai left him out of the knockouts and won the Ranji Trophy.
All this while Abdulla, who had moved to Mumbai from Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh to pursue his passion, remained silent. Even after he was dumped from Mumbai's squad despite returning match figures of 4 for 83 against Punjab, his only game of the season. Even after Mumbai selector Deepak Jadhav explained 42-year-old Pravin Tambe's inclusion by saying Abdulla "hasn't been bowling well". Abdulla just kept working on his game.
When he got his next opportunity, against Gujarat in Valsad, with Mumbai in another must-win situation in another final group match, Abdulla grabbed it. Two crucial thirties and 11 wickets won him Man of the Match and helped Mumbai sneak into the quarterfinals. Then, he opened up.
"I always knew my performance would speak for me," Abdulla said ahead of Mumbai's quarterfinal against Maharashtra. "A lot of things have been said. There have been many who criticised me and many who stood by me as well. I don't think I deserved to be dropped after the Punjab game, but I just kept on doing what I have always done. Thank god the rewards have followed."
When asked if he had analysed the downturn after the high of 2010-11, Abdulla said it wasn't the result of bad bowling. "It wasn't as if I was trying too many things," he said. "It was just that the wickets were so flat that (2011-12) season that no spinner could have an impact. Even Rameshbhai (Powar), who was the senior spinner, could hardly pick up wickets."
Did focusing on limited-overs cricket make him a defensive bowler? "Many people felt that way," Abdulla said. "Even Padmakar Shivalkar sir, who was the chief selector then, told me I was dropped because I was bowling too flat. But all I have been doing is backing myself all along. I have always bowled according to conditions and that's what has worked for me more often than not."
Flighting the ball in helpful conditions in Valsad, Abdulla displayed he had it in him to succeed by bowling classical left-arm spin. If he can continue in the same vein at the Wankhede Stadium over the next five days, he will have done a world of good not just for himself but also for Mumbai's quest for their 41st title.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo