Positive World Cup spin from Majid Haq

Howzat for a career! Majid Haq needs only two wickets for a Scottish record. Picture: SNS
Howzat for a career! Majid Haq needs only two wickets for a Scottish record. Picture: SNS
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TOURING isn’t my favourite thing,” says Majid Haq. By that barometer, two months in the Antipodes, far removed from his tight-knit family circle in Paisley, should be the Scotland spinner’s personal equivalent of a trip into the Celebrity Jungle. Yet this, for once, is a trip he plans to savour.

On the eve of his 32nd birthday, Haq has become the Saltires’ great survivor. The World Cup will begin with great fanfare on Saturday but only one of the Scottish contingent can personally attest to what the 50-over showpiece entails.

It was eight years ago that an ageing squad travelled to St Kitts and found only trouble in paradise. Defeats to South Africa and eventual victors Australia were to be expected. Losing to the Netherlands wasn’t. It was not an adventure Haq recalls with undiluted delight.

“It just flew by,” Haq says. “Hopefully, this time I can take a bit of time to sample the whole World Cup atmosphere. It was great to be part of that tournament and to go up against the two best teams in the world. It was a great position to be in. But the last game against Holland was very disappointing.

“It was the manner of it. We lost by eight wickets with 20 overs to go. Everyone just felt deflated because we’d played so well that winter. It was horrible to get to the Cup and then run out of gas.”

The rejuvenation process, which saw the Scots sit out the last World Cup, was painful but necessary. Some were given their head and decapitated. Others have survived to earn a just reward with a seven-week stint traversing Australia and New Zealand.

Both the co-hosts are among Scotland’s first round opponents. Likewise, fellow Associate members Afghanistan, plus Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and England. “We’ve targeted two victories,” says Haq. “Especially Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Then we’ll look to beat one of the top-four teams in the group. Three wins would probably get you into the quarter-finals so there’s another aim. One person batting-wise can change an entire game. And, bowling-wise, we’ve got matchwinners in the squad. So we won’t be going in worried.”

Least worried of all is Haq, who has regularly joined illustrious company in the spinners’ rankings. If Haq had been English or Indian, his numbers would have delivered wealth and fame. Instead, he has remained homespun despite overtures from elsewhere.

“After the 2007 World Cup I was approached by Warwickshire,” he says. “But it didn’t work out. I wasn’t really fit enough. Most people know I like my food too much and my weight has fluctuated over the years. It’ll probably be that way until I die. It’s the off-the-field stuff I haven’t kept a close eye on. But I don’t have any real regrets.”

Well, maybe a little freelance cricket would be nice, he admits with a smile. The IPL can ring anytime. Yet home will still call. It is a cultural as much as a personal trait. A devout Muslim, he is a totem for his community, an example both of untapped resources and a blueprint for how they should be nurtured.

“That’s something Scottish cricket needs to keep pushing for, because there’s a lot of talent in the Asian community,” he says. “It’s important that the set-up understands how there is a difference between them and the indigenous Scottish lads. Muslims, we don’t drink. We don’t mix as much socially. Eating-wise too. Most Asian guys are more home-based until they are ready to get married. There are subtle differences.”

Cricket, however, unites. The entire game will unify in tribute should Haq, already Scotland’s most-capped player, collect the two wickets he needs amid this week’s warm-ups against Ireland and the West Indies in Sydney to overtake Craig Wright at the top of Scotland’s wickets list. It would be nice, Haq says, but it’s not why he has ventured far from home. “We all think of this as a showcase for our individual talents and also as a team,” he says. “If all 11 of us on the park play to our potential, there’s no reason why we can’t make some waves.”