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Feature

Faiz Fazal revels in career highs after emotional retirement

It wasn't quite a fairy tale ending for the domestic veteran, but he leaves the game with a rich legacy

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
01-Mar-2024
Faiz Fazal announced his retirement two weeks ago  •  PTI

Faiz Fazal announced his retirement two weeks ago  •  PTI

Faiz Fazal woke up at different times this Ranji Trophy season in excruciating pain. Matching up to the rigours of first-class cricket was becoming difficult. When it hampered his pre-match preparation, he decided he couldn't carry on this way.
The thought of retiring after 21 years in the game made him emotional. But being left out midway through the season because he was "rusty" gave him a reality check. He decided then that whenever he'd get an opportunity next, he'd call it quits.
That game came two weeks ago in the final Ranji league fixture against Haryana. It wasn't quite a fairy tale ending - Fazal made 1 and 0 - but he is entirely at peace with his decision two weeks on, even though he could've tried and prolonged his journey through the Ranji knockouts.
On Saturday, Vidarbha will begin their quest for a third title when they take on Madhya Pradesh in the semi-finals at home. Fazal won't be part of the dressing room, but will still be watching with a cup of coffee in hand and plenty of notes and nuggets for his boys to chew on.
"I'd been struggling with a [left] knee injury for over a year," Fazal, 38, tells ESPNcricinfo. "Last season, I took cortisone injections to numb the pain and played through discomfort, but my movements were getting restricted. I still went to the United Kingdom for my league cricket stint in the summer, but when I returned in September, the pain was immense. So I underwent surgery for a meniscal tear and got it repaired with an implant."
During this process, Fazal found out his issue was deeper than just a tear.
"We found out there was some extra growth spurts underneath my patella," he says. "That was removed with some form of radiation therapy. Then there was also a cyst that had developed because of the meniscal tear which was hurting me. So I underwent a bone-narrow augmentation, a new technology, for better joint health and recovery."
These procedures meant he wasn't in the fray for the white-ball season. It also left him with little time to prepare for the Ranji Trophy.
"I felt I was short on preparation," he says. "No excuses for my bad performances, but I take great pride in preparation. Red-ball preparation has been a massive part of my off-season routines, so when I couldn't get that in, I felt a bit short-changed. I played just a couple of practice games coming in, but I realised my knee was getting a little stiff.
"Every time I used to go into bat after a break, like lunch or tea, I wasn't able to match the intensity of first-class cricket. This affected my form and the selectors felt I needed to be given a break because I was rusty.
"I don't know if I was rusty or not, but I had to sit out. At that point I decided whichever game I would play next; I'll call it a day after that. It so happened that that game happened to be our final league fixture of the season."
Fazal explains feeling "shattered" waking up the next morning knowing he was no longer a first-class cricketer. But a little bit of introspection helped him realise the volume of his achievements. He led Vidarbha to back-to-back Ranji Trophy wins in 2017-18 and 2018-19, captained Central Zone in the Duleep Trophy, earned an India debut at 31.
"I was shattered waking up the next morning, I won't lie," he says. "I'm a very emotional guy. Small things hurt me, or small things make me really happy. And earning that India cap was the proudest moment for me and the family. That was the biggest high. You can look back and say, 'oh it was just one game', but also, I was the only one in that squad who didn't play in the IPL.
"So, I looked at that opportunity as a reward for my domestic grind. Did I feel disappointed and hurt at not getting another chance? One hundred percent. Did it affect me? It definitely did. But then, you also realise how lucky you are."
Fazal leaves with a rich legacy. He made 9184 first-class runs in 138 matches with 24 hundreds and 39 half-centuries. The Ranji titles gave him immense satisfaction, but beyond that, just seeing his team get the respect of the domestic fraternity makes him happier.
"Earlier, we were considered pushovers," he says. "After the Ranji wins, especially the first title, teams suddenly woke up and realised we're as good. Until you win a title, no one considers you. I remember sitting out for 10-11 years despite topping the run charts for my zone. When I used to go to the Duleep Trophy, I used to just carry drinks.
"UP, Railways, MP - all these sides would have four-five players, Vidarbha hardly one or two. But after we won, I went on to lead. We had to score a lot of runs to barge the door down, knocking was just not enough because we were treated as minors."
Fazal only had a brief brush with the IPL in 2010-11, playing all of seven games for Rajasthan Royals. He was quickly branded a red-ball specialist. It hurt but he channeled the snub by going over to the UK to play club cricket. It's been a summer ritual for the last decade.
"I hated sitting in my AC room at home and watching the IPL on TV, what's the point?" he says. "I decided I'll get out and explore and play some cricket. That's how it started. The game itself has been my biggest motivation. I love it to the core. Even now after all these years, I still play gully cricket in my colony with the boys. I enjoy playing at any level."
These days, Fazal is excited by the opportunity to learn the art of coffee making.
"I've just ordered a few equipment, it's coming," he chuckles. "Learning to perfect the French Press, Latte art, make cappuccinos. I'm also mentoring a kid, doing one-on-one sessions. There are a few other opportunities. I'm absolutely open to playing a few leagues for retired players. But yes, life has slowed down and I'm trying to soak in everything else life has to offer."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo