KARACHI - Another tour, another opportunity and more hope for middle-order batsman Faisal Iqbal to find his identity within the Pakistan team. Since his debut in 2001, Faisal operated mostly as a "replacement player", in the shadow of M Yousuf and Inzamam-ul-Haq, and was never able to cement his place in the team.
He has played 26 Test matches over the past 12 years. He last played for Pakistan in 2010 but was part of the Test squad for last one year without being part of the playing XI. He was retained in the squad for the two-match Test series against Zimbabwe but uncertainty looms over his chances to play. Azhar Ali, Younus Khan, Asad Shafiq and Misbah-ul-Haq ahead of Iqbal in the pecking order to occupy the middle-order spots, while Mohammad Hafeez and Khurram Manzoor will mostly be preferred to open the innings. Should he get the chance, the Zimbabwe Tests, he knows, could be crucial for his career.
"I always have been treated as a replacement in past. I was actually groomed to take over from Inzamam or Yousuf once they were done with their careers, but unfortunately I have been deprived," Iqbal told ESPNcricinfo. "For most of my career, since my [international] debut, I have kept waiting for a proper slot so that I could play as a permanent player, and I am obviously disappointed. But I am always optimistic and ready to grab the chance.
"It would be great to get games in succession to prove myself. I obviously won't be looking at Zimbabwe as an easy opponent as, for a batsman, it's all about one good ball. They are after all an international side and every run is important against them. I have plenty of experience and even scored an ODI hundred in Zimbabwe, so things won't be alien for me." Iqbal, who is a nephew of former captain Javed Miandad, had a prolific career at junior level, from his time with the Under-15s. But his time with the seniors has, for the most part, been overshadowed by allegations of nepotism, something Faisal describes as a "daunting factor" and one of the major blows for his career. "I might have been victimised in past and things have not been fair for me," he said. "I am a professional player and have never taken my cricket for granted. I have scored runs on the ground with my own hands, haven't I?" He has often impressed on comeback: after his first recall in 2002, he scored 83 against Australia; then came 139 against India - the highlight of his career - which helped Pakistan to a 341-run victory in Karachi in 2006. In that fateful series against Sri Lanka in early 2009, he scored a half-century in his first innings back. His problem, though, has been consistency. A lack thereof has resulted in him being repeatedly dropped.
Faisal will be hoping to get his chance on September 3, when Pakistan face off against Zimbabwe in Harare for the first of two Tests. This time, he'll hope to make that good start and go on to build on it.