Zafar gave his heart and soul to cricket but was a man apart

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE - By Chris Stocks

UN­LESS in­jury in­ter­venes, not many peo­ple re­tire from pro­fes­sional sport at the age of 25. Zafar An­sari, though, was no or­di­nary ath­lete and so the Sur­rey all-rounder’s de­ci­sion to walk away from cricket this week should not have come as a ma­jor sur­prise.

An­sari only made his Test de­but for Eng­land against Bangladesh in Dhaka last Novem­ber. He played two more Tests, against In­dia in Ra­jkot and Visakha­p­at­nam, and ended with a bowl­ing av­er­age of 55 and bat­ting av­er­age of 9.80.

Those fig­ures were not an un­fair re­flec­tion of An­sari’s per­for­mances even if he could have been af­forded an eas­ier start to Test cricket.

In re­al­ity he was found want­ing at the very high­est level and was un­likely to rep­re­sent Eng­land again.

For a man who has ex­celled in al­most ev­ery­thing he has done in life, fall­ing short for once must have been an un­com­fort­able sen­sa­tion.

An­sari is lit­er­ally bril­liant. He is a clas­si­cally trained pi­anist, boasts a dou­ble first from Cam­bridge Univer­sity and only last win­ter earned a dis­tinc­tion for a Masters de­gree on the Amer­i­can Civil Rights move­ment.

His par­ents are both aca­demics, with his Pak­istan­born fa­ther Pro­fes­sor Khizar Hu­mayun An­sari awarded an OBE in 2002 for his work in the field of race and eth­nic re­la­tions. An­sari’s mother is a his­to­rian.

So, in a team en­vi­ron­ment where much of his peers’ down­time is spent play­ing video games and watch­ing TV box sets, An­sari was a man apart. Be­ing paid to play cricket is a priv­i­lege and a pro­fes­sion An­sari gave his heart and soul to dur­ing his seven years on the books at Sur­rey.

In­deed, a player whose maiden first-class wicket, for Cam­bridge, was Alas­tair Cook en­joyed a fine first­class ca­reer that in­cluded 8,201 runs and 128 wick­ets.

In­deed, things might have worked out dif­fer­ently had he not sus­tained a freak fin­ger in­jury that ruled him out of Eng­land’s tour of the UAE against Pak­istan in the win­ter of 2015.

Yet, per­haps, it was an ex­is­tence that didn’t chal­lenge and ex­cite An­sari enough.

Quite sim­ply, he must feel there are other things he can put his heart and soul into that might, for him, be much more re­ward­ing.

A ca­reer in law might be next for An­sari.

In a state­ment re­leased on Wed­nes­day, he said: “This has been a very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to make and I have not made it lightly. It is, there­fore, with great sad­ness that I say good­bye.

“While the tim­ing may come as a sur­prise, I have al­ways main­tained that cricket was just one part of my life and I have other am­bi­tions I want to ful­fil.

“With that in mind, I am now ex­plor­ing an­other ca­reer, po­ten­tially in law, and to achieve this I have to be­gin the process now.

“Equally, to have played three Test matches for Eng­land was a huge hon­our and it is some­thing I will un­doubt­edly savour for the rest of my life.”

Hav­ing cov­ered Eng­land’s tours of Bangladesh and In­dia last win­ter, I would like to say what a plea­sure An­sari was to deal with. The two in­ter­views he did with the na­tional Press, on the eve of his Test de­but in Dhaka and be­fore his last in Visakha­p­at­nam, were dealt with bril­liantly and with wit and in­tel­li­gence.

Dur­ing that sec­ond interview he used the op­por­tu­nity to ex­press how proud he was of the fact that along with Haseeb Hameed, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid he was one of four play­ers with a Bri­tish Mus­lim back­ground rep­re­sent­ing Eng­land.

That he was able to an­a­lyse the wider so­cial implications and ex­press those views elo­quently was no sur­prise. It was, though, re­fresh­ing to hear.

An­sari, again speak­ing on that tour, also gave a re­veal­ing an­swer when asked what he might have done had he not be­come a crick­eter.

“My par­ents are both aca­demics, and my brother’s just fin­ished a PHD, so I imag­ine that if I’d been able to get fund­ing then I would have done a PHD, and put off de­cid­ing what I ac­tu­ally want to do,” he said.

“I’m in­ter­ested in law, cer­tain as­pects of it at least, so maybe I would be go­ing down that path.”

That’s a path An­sari will now tread with the best wishes of ev­ery­one in cricket ring­ing in his ears.

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