"I myself didn't realize when I was dropped" - Iqbal Abdulla on his IPL journey [Exclusive]

Iqbal Abdulla celebrates after picking up a wicket for KKR
Iqbal Abdulla celebrates after picking up a wicket for KKR

While a 19-year-old Virat Kohli lifted the ICC Under-19 World Cup back in 2008, another youngster, Iqbal Abdulla, finished the tournament as India's leading wicket-taker.

He had bagged 10 wickets in the competition and was one of India's main weapons in the bowling department. While many believe Kohli was the face of that young Indian team, Iqbal Abdulla always felt that each and every individual in the squad was equally important in winning the Under-19 World Cup.

"Our Under-19 unit was playing together for a long time, be it Ravindra Jadeja, Shreevats Goswami, Siddarth Kaul, Manish Pandey, etc. We didn't win the World Cup due to any single individual. We won it because we played together as a team. As individuals, each one of us knew our respective capabilities and that was the best thing," Iqbal Abdulla said in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda.

Iqbal Abdulla recalls the thrilling final against South Africa

India played sensational cricket throughout the tournament, but their capability was tested to the limit by a strong South African side in the final. The young Proteas bundled out India for just 159 runs. South Africa's target was then readjusted to 116 from 25 overs in a rain-affected game.

It seemed to be a walk in the park for South Africa. But the spirited Indians, led by none other than Kohli, kept picking up wickets at regular intervals. India's two left-arm spinners - Ravindra Jadeja and Iqbal Abdulla - put a brake on South Africa's scoring rate.

What happened next is history as India's young brigade passed the acid test in style. Iqbal Abdulla recalled the finale and shared his memories.

"We had scored 160 odd runs in a rain-affected final. But the most crucial thing was that after the D/L method was into effect, both me and Jadeja still had four overs each left up our sleeves. We hardly gave away any runs in those eight overs, and it proved to be the difference in the end," Abdulla explained.

Iqbal Abdulla had already grabbed eyeballs when he picked up a five-wicket haul against Haryana in a T20 game as a 17-year-old. He also won the Player of the Series award in the 2011 Emerging Players' Tournament in Australia.

Iqbal Abdulla on playing under Gautam Gambhir at KKR

Gautam Gambhir led KKR to two IPL titles in 2012 and 2014
Gautam Gambhir led KKR to two IPL titles in 2012 and 2014

The youngster was part of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) since the inaugural edition of the IPL in 2008. But it was really in 2011, under the captaincy of Gautam Gambhir, that Iqbal Abdulla finally came of age. He picked up 16 wickets that season and also won the Under-23 Player of the Tournament award.

Iqbal Abdulla explained how Gambhir's captaincy helped him thrive in tough situations. In this regard, he said:

"The best thing about Gautam Gambhir's captaincy was that he used to tell you one day prior to the game whether you are playing or not. Every player had his routine in preparation for the game. Thus, knowing whether you were playing or not used to help immensely."

Abdulla generally used to bowl in the powerplay for KKR - a difficult task for spinners. However, he believes that Gambhir's trust in him enabled him to punch above his weight.

"Gambhir would also guide your properly during the game whether you are bowling in the powerplay or in the middle-overs. Whenever I played under him, I have always bowled fearlessly. In all six seasons that I played for KKR, I have bowled the difficult overs. Most of the times, three of my four overs were used up in the powerplay itself, where batsmen have the luxury of field restrictions. The captain had immense faith in me and that boasted my confidence," Iqbal Abdulla stated.

Iqbal Abdulla shares his memories of the IPL 2012 final

KKR beat CSK in their own den to win the IPL 2012 title
KKR beat CSK in their own den to win the IPL 2012 title

Beating then-defending champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the 2012 IPL final is one of the highest points of Iqbal Abdulla's career.

A sensational 73 from Suresh Raina saw CSK post a mammoth 190-3 in their 20 overs. However, Manvinder Bisla (89) and Jacques Kallis (69) helped KKR clinch their maiden IPL title.

Iqbal Abdulla revealed that there was a motivational video shown to the KKR team before the final. The video consisted of family members of the players wishing them luck for the game. The 31-year-old explained how the emotional moment gave KKR an extra spring in their stride.

"Before the IPL 2012 final, no one among us had a clue that there was a video made where our families wished us all the best. So that was a huge motivational factor because we realized so many people are connected with this final.The biggest thing about that day was that our franchise had already made the jersies of the champions even before the game started. That showed the amount of faith that they had in us."

Iqbal Abdulla didn't receive consistent chances in IPL after 2012

Iqbal Abdulla in action for RCB
Iqbal Abdulla in action for RCB

Little did Iqbal Abdulla know that the highs of IPL 2012 were going to be met with the lows of playing just 21 IPL games in the next eight seasons. He was snapped up at the IPL 2014 Auctions by the Rajasthan Royals. But the spinner played just one game that season.

Bought by the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) ahead of IPL 2015, he was one of the most important components of the side that made it to the final. While Kohli had scored a mammoth 973 runs that season, AB de Villiers was also praised as his sensational 79* against the Gujarat Lions in Qualifier 1 saw RCB through to the final.

Iqbal Abdulla and AB de Villiers
Iqbal Abdulla and AB de Villiers

In the same game, Iqbal Abdulla had also made an important contribution of 33* and stitched an unbeaten partnership of 91 with the Proteas legend. Had it not been for Abdulla's brilliant supporting knock, RCB might not have made it to the final.

Abdulla spoke about how his promising IPL journey just tapered off with time due to lack of opportunities.

"If you pick up my IPL stats, you will see that at one point, I was the most economical bowler and the fourth best in the world. Whenever I have got an opportunity, I have given my hundred percent and my stats prove that. I myself didn't realize when I was dropped. 2016 was the first time that RCB had reached the final under Virat Kohli's captaincy and I had made an important contribution with the bat in the Qualifier 1. So when you perform and yet you are overlooked, it leaves you with self-doubt," Iqbal Abdulla said.

Despite these difficulties, Iqbal Abdulla concluded by saying, "there is always light at the end of the tunnel". It shows that the 31-year-old has not given up on the prospect of playing in the IPL again.

One of the most underrated all-rounders in the country, Abdulla is keen to prove that he is still a genuine match-winner.

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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