The burly figure glides ever so slowly past the shimmering swimming pool, turns past the colorfully decorated rustic huts, and bumps into Chris Harris. "We won the game mate," says Harris, shaking hands. Woken from his reverie, Inzamam-ul-Haq reacts slowly, "Won? It's good I didn't play the match then!" and breaks into a smile. "By nine wickets, no less," says Harris, walking towards his room at the plush Lahiri Resorts, off the NH7 Hyderabad-Mumbai highway, where he and Inzamam, among other players in the Indian Cricket League are currently based for a camp.
Inzamam has just given a long television interview to Harsha Bhogle and is in no mood to sit down for another chat. I try to persuade him: "I have travelled three and a half hours to get to this place bhai." The man known for his reham-dili sighs and asks me to keep it short. A couple of chairs materialise, and so do a bunch of kids who swoop in for autographs with outstretched notebooks and pens. Inzamam smiles and asks me to fire away as he humours them.
We start with where it ended for him: That charge down the track at Lahore a little over a month ago as he tried to get past Javed Miandad's Pakistan record of 8832 Test runs.
"Actually, I wanted to break the record with a boundary," Inzamam says. "And that was my last Test match. It was playing on my mind that if I finished with a good innings and took the team to a win with positive cricket, nothing like it." We know what happened instead. Would he play it any differently if he could rewind the clock? Inzamam shrugs and says with a chuckle, "Zahir si baat hai ki ab kheloonga to different kheloonga (It's obvious that I would play differently if I could).
"[Paul] Harris was bowling a restricting line from over the wickets. I had played that shot so many times in my career, and over 90% of the time, it would have gone for a six."
He leans back in his chair and looks away into the distance at nothing in particular. We are in a small ground, encircled by a wire fence. The kids are still hovering, and behind them the sun is sinking.
"I believe the record was not in my destiny", Inzamam continues, "I think yeh sahi hai ki(it is right that) it stays with Javed bhai. He was a better player than me." That modesty stays at the fore when I try and get him to compare himself with Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. "Both are great players, better than me. They have performed better than me."
I try a different angle. How about his stupendous ability to pull off heists, taking his team to victory from tough situations? "Haan ... I am happy with my own performance. It's important what you can do for your team. Even if you score 30-40, if it contributes to team's victory, then it is always memorable. I won't say I have won many matches, but I used to take care to just do my role. It might have been a short or long knock, whatever the captain and the team needed at that time."
Often what his team needed with him at the crease was to be rescued from a tight corner. Far too many times to mention, Inzamam was the boy on the burning deck. Can one remain sane and calm and dare to think straight in those situations, or does one react spontaneously to the ball bowled, or act according to a predetermined plan based on an idea of where the ball should go? Watching Inzamam, you felt it could all be planned. No, had to be planned.
He is quick to shatter the notion. "It's not as if I never used to get under pressure. That is nonsense. It's just that my looks gave an appearance, and people didn't think I was tense." Everyone who wants to grow a beard and try to look like a philosopher, take note.
I ask him to talk me through the Karachi knock against Australia. Fifty-six runs to win, 11 Australians at your throat, and only the last man, Mushtaq Ahmed, for company: forget butterflies, it's enough to make your stomach feel like a jungle.
|It's not as if I never used to get under pressure. That is nonsense. It's just that my looks gave an appearance, and people didn't think I was tense|
"I still remember that day," Inzamam warms up. "Shane Warne, Tim May and [Jo] Angel were bowling. I would play out four balls quietly and the field would come in. I thought, 'I can hit one or two deliveries over the infield and the pressure will swing back.'
"Mushtaq Ahmed also gave me confidence that he could play the spinners and stay out there. He had settled down by then and I started giving him strike and taking singles. As the runs come down, we knew the opposition captain was going come under pressure."
And then it happened. With three runs to win, Inzamam dashed down the track to Warne, the ball dipped rapidly and Inzamam missed. But so did Ian Healy. Game over.
Rewind. Shane Warne, in consultation with Mark Taylor, leaves a gap at midwicket. The trap is simple. "See Shane Warne is a great bowler. It was his plan to make me play across the turn through that gap. I knew what the plan was, but I saw that gap as an opportunity and decided to back myself. Ye batsmen aur bowler ki luck ki baat hai, kaun kamyab hota hai. Kaun apni nabz mein kitna control rakh saktha hain (It is about the luck of batsmen and bowlers - who is successful. It's about holding the nerves)."
"Ho sakta hai ki main vahan pey panic ho gaya hoon (Perhaps I panicked then). I could have done it in singles also. But that is the whole charm of the battle. I just backed myself to play that shot."
And thus that and other escapes were crafted: shots and areas picked, situations assessed, the bowlers to be hit chosen. Can this temperament be acquired? Can a blueprint be developed? Inzamam offers hope.
"Confidence comes from planning in those situations. Trust yourself in tight situations, but you need to have a plan. You might fail once, twice, but you will get better at it.
"First is trust, self-belief that you can do it. It's not as if you will do it all times - there is another team planning. But if you can keep at it, the success-rate will go up. It's not as if I won many matches from those situations, but I gave myself the best chance by having a plan.
"If you panic, the performance will go down. I saw Yuvraj Singh last season. He never panicked and his performance went up. He was never so calm before. See, he is learning and changing. Natural talent can only take you to a point and it then stops. With hard work, you can even change attitude and temperament."
More fans arrive. Cell phone cameras flash furiously. Digital evidence for personal "I was there with him" moments is collected.
What are Inzamam's own "I was there" moments from his career? "Apart from that Australia game, the Bangladesh match was important for me. And the one-day game against West Indies in 1993; that was very special." That game was Pakistan's first win in West Indies. Inzamam hit an unbeaten 104-ball 90 with eight fours to steer his team to the target of 260.
"The 184 in the Bangalore Test was very special. Of course, that 1992 semi-final and 329 against New Zealand too ..." he trails off. "There are lots of other moments." Too many to count.
What about battles within wars? What about a famous tussle with a bowler?
Inzamam's eyes light up as he proceeds to talk about an innings against Warne. "In a Gujranwala ODI, Australia had made 250. Saeed Anwar and I made a plan to tackle Warne.
"Aapko pata hi hai ki voh beech ke over mein aake uska kaam kar deta hai, theek hain na? (You know how he comes on in the middle overs and does his work.). We had decided ki hame is pey hamla karna hain (we were going to attack him). As soon as he came on, we went on the attack. Anwar bhai and I played our shots. He hit a century, I got a 90." Pakistan won the game by nine wickets with 11 overs to spare. "That was a special moment, too. We had a plan and we carried it off. It gives tremendous satisfaction as a batsman when you do that."
Why did he decide to shed the pure-batsman skin and take up captaincy after he had rejected it at least twice before?
"I was never after captaincy. Kabhi shauk nahi tha ki main captain banoon, meri team pey hold ho (I never desired to be captain or have a hold over the team). PCB had already offered it to me twice, but I had refused. But this time I thought, the team was full of young boys. They needed some experienced guy to guide them. I thought it was my duty to take up the role."
And so he did, ending up running into one of the biggest crises the game has seen in recent times, the controversy at The Oval. For a man who likes to remain calm and relaxed, he was seen to get visibly angry that day in August 2006. What made him snap?
"I thought what the umpires did was wrong. Country's izzat (honour) was damaged. I was the ambassador of the country then. It was my responsibility to keep the prestige.
"We were winning the Test match but winning and losing has nothing to do with a country or an individual's self respect." He pre-empts the next question. "Even now I still feel I did the right thing. If someone says Pakistan has cheated, then something had to be done. Shukr hai Allah ka, it has been proved that Pakistan didn't cheat."
Now that he has retired, he misses those moments, those battles planned and won, even the ones that didn't go according to plan; the thrill in knowing that people thought he could pull off the improbable. "Bahut kuch hai miss karne ko (There's a lot to miss). Cricket gave me the opportunity to have a wonderful life, travel ... and I will miss the tension, pressure situations, victories. I am thankful for the love and blessings of people all over the world. I just wanted to do the best out there and entertain them."
With that he gets up and saunters off. The kids freeze, autograph books limp in their hands. Inzamam stops, turns around to look at them with a smile, and they rush to him. He is Uncle Inzi again.
Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo