Imam-ul-Haq, while in conversation with Deep Dasgupta on ESPNCricinfo, opened up about his struggle after incessant trolling by a section of fans before his ODI debut.
Imam, the nephew of former Pakistan captain and current chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq, was accused of making the national team through nepotism, and questions were raised over his ability to play at the highest level.
Imam detailed how in the early days, he had few friends in the squad, and had to have his meals alone. “To be honest, when I was picked for Pakistan, I only had one friend – Babar [Azam],” he said. “But there was a communication gap between us because he was playing regularly for the national team and I was playing domestic cricket. So, we weren’t talking a lot.
“Moreover, he was focussed on his cricket and he was in very good form and had scored two back-to-back centuries in the ODI series against Sri Lanka. Because his performances in the Test matches weren’t very good, he wanted to make up for it. So, he wasn’t talking much.
“When all of this started happening, I would have my meals all alone,” he said. “It was my first tour and you know how it can get on the first tour. And whenever I would open my phone, there were people tagging me on social media posts or sending me stuff. I was very disheartened and couldn’t understand anything. I stopped talking to my family because I didn’t want to put them under any pressure that I’m facing problems. I switched off and handed both my mobile phones to my manager, and said, ‘I can’t take this, please take them off me.’”
Imam remembered ‘crying in the shower for hours’ and being riddled with self-doubt, to such an extreme that he wished coach Mickey Arthur overlooked him for selection. “I remember crying in the shower for hours that I haven’t even played yet [he played the third ODI of the series in Abu Dhabi],” he said. “It’s very easy for young players to get surrounded by self-doubt. The only thing running constantly in my mind was that I haven’t even played [for the national team] yet, what if I play and don’t perform well? Then my career will be over. I wouldn’t step a foot out of my room, fearing people might trouble me outside, because there is a large Pakistan community in Dubai.
— ICC (@ICC) October 18, 2017
“So I didn’t play the first two matches of the series, Ahmed Shehzad played in them but he couldn’t perform [well]. In the team meeting after the second match, Mickey Arthur announced a 14-strong team for the next match, and I was included in that. And he said that you will be informed if you will be playing the night before [the match].
“But I didn’t get any call or message in the night, so I thought I wasn’t playing. We were living in Dubai, and from there we had to travel to Abu Dhabi on the match-day, which is a two-hour drive. So we had to leave around 11am-12pm for the match and I got his [Arthur’s] message at around 9.30am, which I still remember, ‘Immy, it’s your time, be ready and good luck.’
“After that, I don’t remember anything. My mind was completely blank. I was hoping he hadn’t messaged me. He shouldn’t have. Because my confidence had hit the rock-bottom and I was feeling so low that I felt I won’t be able to perform in the match. I was focussing less on the match and more on what would happen after. What if I couldn’t perform? My career will get badly affected and everyone will say they were right to criticise me. Because the media was only discussing my inclusion in the side.”
Imam slammed a century on his debut in that series against Sri Lanka in 2017, and silenced the trolls.