"My ultimate aim is to play for India," - were the words uttered by all-rounder Iqbal Abdulla every now and then during an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.
68 games, 2486 runs and 213 wickets - Iqbal Abdulla's numbers in first-class cricket are quite commendable. The stats speak volumes about why he is one of the most prolific all-rounders on the domestic circuit.
Although Iqbal Abdulla has been somewhat of a journeyman, turning up for teams like Kerala, Sikkim, and now Uttarakhand, his playing days in Mumbai have certainly made a significant impact on his career.
Primarily a left-arm orthodox spinner, Iqbal Abdulla has always taken pride in his batting ability. His rescue acts for Mumbai, batting lower down the order, are some of his best memories while playing for the domestic giants.
The 31-year-old spoke about how Mumbai's tail used to wag consistently back then and how they frustrated their opponents by putting a price on their wicket.
"In those days, either Mumbai used to do really well with the bat, or it would come down to us (lower order). Among myself, Dhawal Kulkarni, Ramesh Powar bhai and even Ajit Agarkar bhai, the coaches used to send out that player to bat first who had scored runs in the previous game. We have contributed a lot down the order, living up to the billing of Mumbai's 'khadoos' (miserly) attitude," Iqbal Abdulla said.
Not getting consistent chances at Mumbai hurt me a lot: Iqbal Abdulla
Iqbal Abdulla gradually became one of the most consistent performers for the Mumbai team. His most prolific season came in the 2010-11 Ranji Trophy, where he picked up 27 wickets at an excellent average of 22.11.
However, with time, things turned sour between Abdulla and his state team. He opened up about the kind of emotions he went through as he was dropped numerous times from the playing XI despite performing.
"Sometimes I had no clue why I was dropped from the Mumbai side. I never used to get the right reason or explanation. If someone from the team is performing better than you then it's understandable. Sometimes I was given the reason that I was rested, but it made no sense. So that was a bit hard to understand, especially when I was performing and leading the DY Patil side for 10-12 years. Our team used to dominate because we performed consistently. So I was performing as an all-rounder and that's why not getting consistent chances hurt me a lot," Iqbal Abdulla explained.
Iqbal Abdulla reached breaking point with Mumbai after being unable to cement his place in the side despite picking up six wickets in the Irani Trophy. Dejected, the 31-year-old had to make the tough decision to leave Mumbai and go to a team where he felt he would get ample game time.
"I think performance should be given priority, be it any player from any club. Players should not just keep on playing on the basis of their name or reputation. Despite performing in the Irani Trophy in 2015, when I was ignored, I had begun talks with other teams that I would be leaving Mumbai due to the lack of opportunities. My aim has always been to play for India and not do any kind of timepass," Iqbal Abdulla said.
Iqbal Abdulla on Mumbai's "cooling-off period" rule
Iqbal Abdulla performed well for Kerala in the 2016-17 domestic season. However, his best chance of being fast-tracked into the Indian team was to play for a top side like Mumbai. This enticed him to return to Mumbai.
However, he was hit with the Mumbai Cricket Association's "cooling-off period" rule. As Iqbal Abdulla returned after representing another domestic team, he had to serve a one-year period away from the game if he wanted to play for Mumbai again.
"After performing for Kerala for a year, I returned to Mumbai. I had performed well and was determined to play for Mumbai again. But some selectors, who had actually once played with me, stated that I had to serve a cooling period of one year. That one year was a real waste for me, but I still believed I would be good enough to be picked next season based on my performances," Iqbal Abdulla stated.
Iqbal Abdulla continued to impress for the DY Patil team in club cricket with his sensational all-round performances. But even after serving his cooling-off period, the all-rounder couldn't get a look into the Mumbai team. This made him furious and forced him to jump ships again, this time for Sikkim.
"But even the next year, despite having proved myself with consistent performances, I was not selected. My performance in DY Patil was really good but I was still not considered. In such a way, my two years were wasted and that is when I decided to play for Sikkim," Iqbal Abdullah revealed.
Iqbal Abdulla has his say on the Wasim Jaffer Saga
Currently, Iqbal Abdulla is the skipper of the Uttarakhand team. They performed really well in the 2021 Vijay Hazare Trophy, topping their Plate Group. But the big news surrounding the team was the controversial resignation of their head coach Wasim Jaffer.
The former Indian batsman was accused of creating communal bias within the team. However, Iqbal Abdulla believes the inquiry should have been more on Uttarakhand's performance under Jaffer, rather than questioning the 43-year-old on frivolous issues. He opined:
"We had lost in the T20s and didn't perform well. So rather than asking Wasim Jaffer about all these controversies, he should have been asked about why was the team not performing well under him. I don't think these controversies should have been given that much importance. Well-educated and smart people do not pay attention to such petty issues."
I can't even think of returning to Mumbai: Iqbal Abdulla
Having played domestic cricket for almost 14 years, Iqbal Abdulla still believes the cooling-off period incident in Mumbai is the worst thing that has happened to his career till date. He firmly believes he won't be representing the domestic giants again due to such cooling-off rules.
"I cannot even think of returning to Mumbai. The worst thing about Mumbai Cricket has been the cooling period system. In the end you want to play for India. And despite playing club cricket if your own state doesn't allow you to play for them, it is unfair. There are so many coaches who have left Mumbai and then returned back again, but there is no cooling period for them. These are the reasons why players like me leave Mumbai and try their luck in other teams," Iqbal Abdulla concluded.
However, one thing is for certain - Iqbal Abdulla will continue to work hard, push his limits further, and hopefully see himself representing his nation some day. Mumbai could well regret letting go of such a quality all-rounder.