Majid Haq looks at life beyond Scotland
A year has proved to be a long time in the career of Majid Haq. The fallout from the events of the 2015 World Cup has meant his Cricket Scotland contract has not been renewed, leaving the country's most successful international bowler at a crossroads both on and off the field. Majid was sent back home from the tournament after he alleged on Twitter that his omission from the team for a game had racist undertones.
Having just celebrated his 33rd birthday, an age at which a spinner is considered to be in his prime, he goes into the 2016 summer on the back of one of his best seasons in club cricket, his 357 runs, 30 wickets and match-winning returns of 8 for 20 and 7 for 10 leading Clydesdale to the 2015 Western District Cricket Union Championship title, their first in 20 years.
"Things are looking good," Majid said. "There are a lot of very good young players coming through. We're a strong club but we just need to keep looking to get better and not just rest on what we did last season. We've got a great culture at the club and a lot of enthusiasm, so I hope it happens again this year."
But with the discouraging loss of his professional contract and no immediate prospect of a Scotland recall, he is looking to explore new horizons beyond club cricket. He is already putting out feelers to the international T20 leagues.
"I was in the draft for the Pakistan Super League and the Caribbean Premier League this winter. I'd like something to happen, and if it's not happening with Scotland, I need to move on and start afresh. I've got an eye on the PSL, the Bangladesh Premier League, maybe the Masters Champions League in the UAE if Scotland is no longer an option."
For today, though, he is happy to take the opportunity to look back as well as forward. As the holder of a raft of national records, a highest international T20 ranking of 16, and a place on All Out Cricket's all-time top 50 Associate cricketers list, there is much to reflect on.
"It's funny, you don't get the chance to think about your career too much when you're playing. This winter has been the first I have had away from the game in a long time. That's when you analyse the stuff you have done.
And to Majid it is performance on the field that is everything. In this era of fitness advisors, dieticians and sports bra-style GPS performance monitors, there is something refreshingly old-school about a man who lists a fondness for "desserts and chilling" on his Twitter profile.
"You get so many players who look amazing in the nets, who look so fit, beautiful body, always in the gym, but at the end of the day it's what you do in the match, that's where it counts. What is the point in having a beautiful looking body if you break down all the time?
"Throughout my career I've had maybe two injuries which have kept me out for a total of about six weeks. I don't look the fittest, I don't get amazing fitness results, but I'm proud to have played more games for Scotland than anyone else."
He has done so in the role of an offspinner, of all things. In a country that produces nip-it-around dibby-dobblers by the hatful, how has he managed to be so successful?
"It's hard to say. Obviously I've played a lot of cricket. The more you play, the more you break records, but I've worked really hard to be consistent in my performance."
Softly spoken, engaging and immensely likeable, Majid's easy-going air has sometimes been misinterpreted in a sporting world that, as Kevin Pietersen has found, often doesn't take too kindly to individualism. But he agrees that that side of his personality has been among the keys to his success.
"What's happened over the last year has changed me a little bit, but before that, I was relaxed, just enjoying my cricket. That attitude always helped me do well.
"People used to take being laid-back for having a bad attitude, but it's just the way I am. Even my mum and dad say I'm like a little kid, though I've just turned 33!"
Whatever his formula, it works. Since making his first-class debut in 2004, Majid has racked up 209 appearances for the national side, scoring over 2000 runs and taking 258 wickets, with a further 177 wickets for the A team. He represented Scotland at the 2007 and 2015 World Cups and at the 2007 and 2009 World T20s. In the four matches at the 2015 World Cup he conceded 4.88 runs an over, which placed him among the top 30 most economical bowlers in a tournament where the bat dominated to an unprecedented degree.
"I've had some amazing times. Scoring 120 not out in a four-day game against Holland when I was asked to open the batting on the morning of the game by the coach, scoring a fifty against New Zealand A. I remember a fifty in 2003 against Durham, who at the time had Shoaib Akhtar as their overseas player. Along with Shaun Tait, he is the fastest bowler I have faced - seriously rapid. We were 6 for 5 at one stage, I came in at No. 8 and got 55 not out. I was only 20 then and I was very happy with that.
"It was special when I picked up my first international five-wicket haul as well [in the ODI victory over Ireland in Malahide in 2014]. What was important there was that we won the game too - when you play well and the team wins, those are the best moments."
The 2014 World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand, a tournament in which Majid took 11 wickets, stands out as a particular high.
"Beating Kenya to qualify for the 2015 World Cup was one of the biggest highlights of my career. If we didn't qualify, Cricket Scotland would have taken a huge financial hit, so it was a massive win. We lost the first game of the tournament to Hong Kong but we came back and played some superb cricket, some of the best cricket that I can remember being involved in.
"But there have been those other ones too when, unfortunately, we haven't got across the line. I took four wickets against West Indies back in 2007 as we lost a very close game. That was a really gutting loss. Against South Africa in the 2009 T20 World Cup - they scored 211 for 5 and I bowled four overs, 2 for 25 - I went at about six an over but the rest of the guys had a bit of a tough time. I got Jacques Kallis out that day, bowled. Probably my favourite wicket!"
Majid's national record of 88 international wickets also includes big-name scalps like Graeme Smith, Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen.
"My approach has definitely changed as I've got older. When you're younger, you just go out and play without fear, but as you gather more experiences, good and bad, you learn to be more patient.
"I think my greatest strength has always been control. It is very important to start the over well. If you do that, you put the batsman under pressure. So balls one and two are very important, and then at the end of the over you want to make sure you go for a dot or a one. You don't want to get hit for a boundary if you've just bowled five good balls.
"In the last ten overs, you're happy going for six an over. It's boundaries that kill you. Although having said that, so many of the top players these days can hit your best ball for four or six.
"I remember AB de Villiers in the 2009 World T20. I bowled him a perfectly good ball but he's so quick on his feet, he just came down the track and hit me for six over long-on. All you can say is, 'Great shot.' You can't really do much about it."
And T20? How does he adapt when all a batsman wants to do is get after him?
"Yeah, T20 is a totally different game. You have to second-guess the batsman. In four-day cricket you can bowl a consistent area and do well, whereas in T20 the more inconsistent you are, the better. It's why part-time bowlers do so well - they aren't consistent in their lines and length.
"Take Glenn McGrath. He bowled a perfect line and length all the time. In T20, though, he could get hit about a bit because of that predictability, so he had to work hard on his variations, yorkers, bouncers, slower balls and so on."
Majid too has a few tricks up his sleeve. "As a spinner you can only really bowl two lengths - either a good length or up in the blockhole - so you have to keep working on those variations: your arm ball, or one that just skids through," he said. "I think about where I'm bowling from in the crease - wider or closer to the stumps, or a bit further back so I bowl a 23-yarder. It's important to keep varying pace too, pushing it through a bit quicker or bowling a bit slower.
"I beat a lot of batsmen in the flight. I've had a lot of stumpings in my career, or catches chipped back to me or to midwicket. One of my favourite wickets was in 2007, getting David Hussey stumped at the Grange. He came down the track and it was just perfect - drifted, pitched then turned in. Those are the ones that as a spin bowler you love, when the batsman comes down on the charge and it drifts and spins through the gate. I enjoyed that," he said, smiling.
Listening to Majid it is clear that his enthusiasm and desire to compete at the highest level are as strong as ever. But recent events have undoubtedly taken their toll.
"Over the last year I've had a very tough time. I'll play the summer first, give everything I can, but then I'll have to make a decision in September about where I go from there.
"One part of me wants to play cricket for as long as I can, but there's another part of me saying, maybe park that and move on and look at accounting - what I did my degree in - try and get a job in that. I've got a lot of thinking to do over the next few months."
It would be a shame if Majid were to be lost to Scottish cricket. His craft, guile and big-match experience were sorely missed at the World T20 in conditions that would have ideally suited him. At a time when things are going to get tougher for the national side, a player of his pedigree can only enhance Scotland's chances both on and off the field in the increasingly competitive world of Associate cricket.
He can perhaps play a role closer to home, too.
"I have a younger cousin, Omer Hussain, who has played more than 20 games for Scotland, but I have three other cousins who want to follow us and play at the highest level as well. One is Hamza Tahir, left-arm spinner, he's 20. Then there's Taimoor Ahmad, allrounder, and Haroon Tahir, a good offspinner, similar style to me. They're both 16. They all have so much potential, it's really exciting."
And if one of them went on to break his record? Majid breaks into a smile.
"I'd be more than happy!"
Jake Perry is a cricket writer based in Scotland. @jperry_cricket