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Inzamam acknowledged he could have played on physically, but mentally might have not fit into a young dressing room with a new captain
October 5, 2007
A sombre press conference at the National Stadium in Karachi brought down the curtain on one of the most glittering careers in Pakistan cricket. Inzamam-ul-Haq probably wouldn't have wanted it any other way. The former captain - and arguably the greatest Pakistan batsman alongside Javed Miandad - announced that next week's second Test against South Africa at Lahore will be his 120th and his last.
As ever, neither mood nor expression nor inflection could be gauged from Inzamam's face. He said, "I am available for the Lahore Test. This will be my last Test for Pakistan. It was a difficult decision for me but I decided it is better for Pakistan." He could just as easily have been talking about a poor day in the field and Pakistan's propensity for no-balls and extras.
He looked considerably slimmer than at the World Cup, fitter perhaps for he had, until recently been prepared to fight for his Test place. A brief stint for Yorkshire revealed his desire, though not perhaps his class, as only one fifty in three county matches shows.
Inzamam acknowledged he could have played on physically, but mentally might have not fit into a young dressing room with a new captain. "I have played cricket all my life and I felt I had 12-18 months left in me still. But I realised the boys are playing well since the World Cup and felt that the age gap between me and them, in the dressing-room, might have been too much. It could have affected the dressing-room."
Through this Test, and the days preceding it, the air has been rife with talk of deals. Perhaps it was an inevitable produce of rumours of the biggest deal in Pakistan - between the President and Benazir Bhutto - but Nasim Ashraf, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, denied numerous reports that a golden handshake agreement had been reached with Inzamam to send him off into the sunset.
Instead, he chose to focus on a "new tradition" of a great player announcing his retirement at the right time and in the right spirit. "All reports regarding any deal are just not correct. Inzamam came to me himself and said that he doesn't want to put undue pressure on the dressing-room with his presence. Inzamam has started a great tradition which we haven't seen in Pakistan before and we should respect and praise him for that. This is a decision for the future of Pakistan cricket."
Such talk will undoubtedly recede over coming days and the focus will rightly switch to Inzamam's body of work. An impressive one it is too: third-highest ODI run-scorer, most Test centuries for Pakistan, 17 match-winning hundreds from 25, one of the best slip catchers and series wins as captain over a strong England and Indian side in 2005-06.
He stands also, just 20 runs short of Miandad's tally as the leading Test run-scorer for Pakistan. Lahore provides him an opportunity for a fitting finale, though the record is not on his mind. "This is not important to me. Obviously it is a big thing to break it, but breaking Javed bhai's record is not such a happy thing." More disappointing, though he didn't say publicly, will be missing out on making 10,000 Test runs.
As is a must on such occasions, he was asked to name his single most memorable moment. The reply was trademark Inzi, dry and self-deprecating. "If I had only one moment to recall in a 119-Test career, it wouldn't be much of a career. It's difficult, but the first was the World Cup 1992 win and the other was my comeback Test against Bangladesh in Multan in 2003." One of his finest hundreds it was, even taking into account the opposition, for the multifarious pressures he was under at the time. Had he not won it, he admitted, he would've retired then, not now.
However and predictably, with the happy days come the sad, most recently the 2007 World Cup campaign where he oversaw Pakistan's ouster to Ireland. It heavily dented, he said to reporters later, his passion and motivation for the game. Undoubtedly there were others, but on balance, it was a career well-constructed. "There are many things you want to achieve but you can't always. Overall, I can look back and thank God for the career I have had."
All of Pakistan, and much of the cricket world, will no doubt thank him for the career he has had.
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