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