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Ranji Trophy 2022/23

Faiz Fazal’s enduring class shows India’s loss is Vidarbha’s gain

Vidarbha captain Faiz Fazal salutes a milestone
by Shashwat Kumar 5 minute read
Image credit: The Hitavada

Shashwat Kumar was in Nagpur to witness Faiz Fazal score his 23rd and 24th first-class hundreds – the sort of knocks that made him, and many at the venue wonder why he has played just one international game for India in his career.

December 13, 2022. The day is set fair at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Jamtha, Nagpur. A few clouds have rolled in but it is a pleasant day to play cricket. Railways are in town, and hope to topple Vidarbha at what has become a fortress in recent years. The pitch is bereft of grass. It looks dry and in the first session, the ball has spun square, kept low, bounced extraordinarily high, and has sowed seeds of doubt in the batter’s minds. One man, though, is unfazed by all that is happening around him, and that man is Vidarbha captain Faiz Fazal.

After tea on the first day, he reaches his 23rd first-class ton – a score that stands out because Vidarbha get shot out for 213. Railways, too, are bundled out for 161 a day later. Then, with the initiative primed to be seized, Fazal smashes another hundred, putting the game well beyond Railways’ reach.


In three days’ work, he illustrates why he is still one of the best red-ball openers in the country. But the lack of fanfare around these twin centuries also highlights how he has often been overlooked through no fault of his own, and how further recognition, despite him doing everything he can, is at a premium.

Fazal does not play the IPL and instead spends that time playing club cricket at Lisburn in Northern Ireland. He was not a part of Vidarbha’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy squad. His focus is on first-class cricket and this dedicated approach to red-ball cricket has already paid dividends.

His father Yakub Fazal has played a major role in his development, both on and off the field. He can mostly be found in the stands watching Fazal play, irrespective of where the match is taking place. He was at the VCA Stadium in Jamtha too, witnessing another masterful Fazal first-class century. And shortly after his son cracked his second hundred in the same match, Yakub outlining that his son has long dreamt of an India Test cap.

“His dream was always to play Test cricket for his country and I know he still has three or four years in him as he is very fit and improving every day as a cricketer,” he tells Wisden India. “I have always instilled in his mind that he should always dream big and to focus on his game which he still does. He goes the extra mile for his fitness and has a strict diet plan which he follows religiously.”

This dedication has helped Fazal extend his career long past when most players finish up. He is 37 years old and still improving, and he has unfinished business driving him forward. He has had his fair share of setbacks, whether it be missing out on the U19 World Cup in 2004 due to injury and playing just a solitary ODI despite scoring an unbeaten fifty on debut, and he is regularly overlooked for even India A recognition.

“Yes, it hurts a lot because I know he is hurting inside but he doesn’t show it,” Yakub says. “We can’t fight destiny. There have been many setbacks but I always try to find a positive angle and tell him to silence his critics by his performance.”

The younger Fazal has responded to that clarion call. Since the start of 2017, he has mustered 13 first-class hundreds at an average a shade under 53. For context, Abhimanyu Easwaran, recently called up to the India Test squad, and Priyank Panchal, who has long been dubbed the next opener in line, average 47.2 and 46.17, respectively. KL Rahul, too, has a first-class average just over 30 during this period. Fazal also led Vidarbha to successive Ranji Trophy and Irani Trophy titles in 2017-18 and 2018.

Fazal’s age might be what counts against him, but he was 32-33 when Vidarbha were winning every red-ball title on offer in India, and still, he was ignored. No explanation for his repeated snubs has been offered. Somewhere down the line, someone might come up and tell everyone why Fazal, whose talent and temperament seem perfect for international cricket, only got a handful of opportunities. Until that happens, he must be wondering what more he must do or could have done.

He has, like his father has often told him, silenced his critics with the bat. The worry is that a lack of talk elsewhere has cost him. He does not partake in the glitz and glamour of the IPL, and he does not have a massive social media following or put up posts about his heartbreak. Nor does he play for one of the bigger sides in the domestic circuit. These things can count, but they really shouldn’t.

India’s loss is Vidarbha’s gain, and doubly so because it feeds Fazal’s hunger to outdo himself each season. The appetite to keep himself fit and challenge himself in the toughest conditions has only increase.

And that is why this story is special. His family lives every moment of his cricketing career. Each time he goes out to bat and scores runs, there is hope that someday something will change and he will get his due. Despite that not happening, they keep going. That is what Fazal has done throughout his career too. Things have not been easy. Far from it. But every time he has been backed into a corner, he has found a way.

With every passing hundred, you wonder what could have been. But Fazal should have no regrets. He has done whatever he could have done to secure a spot in the India side. Those calling the shots and selecting these teams should be the ones regretting their inability to give him the chances he has deserved all along.

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