Imam-ul-Haq: 'I just want to be in my bubble where I am enjoying my game'

Pakistan opener talks about a prolific year with the bat and setting his sights on the T20 World Cup

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Pakistan batsman Imam-ul-Haq is enjoying the best season of his career. This year has been a prolific one for the left-handed batsman, with a few records thrown in for good measure.

Imam started 2022 with centuries in both innings of the Rawalpindi Test against Australia in what was a long-awaited tour by the Antipodean side. This, after spending well over a year out of the Test team and also fulfilling 12th man duties.

A fifty in the third Test was a precursor of a record run in white-ball cricket.

In the subsequent home ODI series, Imam blasted back-to-back centuries and capped the tour with an unbeaten 89.

The next assignment, against the visiting West Indies, produced three more fifties, taking his tally to six consecutive fifty-plus scores in ODIs this year and seven overall - making him just the second batsman after the legendary Javed Miandad to achieve that feat.

His run saw Imam climb to second spot in the ICC rankings for ODI batsmen, placing him behind national hero and captain Babar Azam and ahead of India's Virat Kohli.

It has been a satisfying turn of events for the bespectacled southpaw who has long faced criticism for his measured style of batting and also for perceived backing from the establishment; Imam is the nephew of legendary batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was the chief selector until 2019.

Criticism will always be there even when I play my last match

“We were not playing white-ball [50-over] cricket [regularly] since 2019, just two or three series, and I was 12th man of the Test side. I was playing well but that form was not getting into matches,” Imam told The National from Sri Lanka ahead of the two-match Test series starting on Saturday.

“I knew I was in good form but was not getting opportunities. If you get opportunities to play continuously, you play better than if you are just sitting outside. I am very thankful I got the chances.”

While it would be safe to assume Imam has made alterations to his game, he insists he has not changed his overall approach.

“I haven’t changed anything. I have been playing international cricket for five years. Experience gives you some extra bytes. It’s a mixture of attacking and pacing your innings. It depends on the situation of the game and as an opener you need to understand how the wicket behaves, what the team needs.”

What could change now is the ferocity of the criticism from his detractors, who took umbrage at his entry into the national set-up when when his uncle Inzamam held selection power.

“Criticism will always be there even when I play my last match. Since 2017 to 2022, I have been criticised for whatever I have done, good or bad. It does not matter.

“Yes, when you score runs, nobody can criticise. But that’s how life is. I really respect everyone. If someone is criticising me, I can’t do anything about it. I just want to be in my bubble where I’m enjoying my game. Critics will always be there.“

Having proven himself in two formats this year, Imam is hopeful of forcing his way into the third, despite featuring in just two T20Is in his career. The T20 World Cup will be held in Australia this year and Imam realises good form throughout should hold him in good stead in his quest to conquer 20-over cricket.

"If you are in good form, everyone can play three formats, if their process is right, if the belief is there. Right now I am playing two formats and I am doing well, so I want it to continue. When I get the opportunity in T20 cricket, I will want to chip in there as well."

Updated: July 15, 2022, 8:36 AM