SIMON BAJKOWSKI sits down to talk about Surrey, success and Sky TV with Tit Hall Cricket star ZAFAR ANSARI.
While most Cantabs spent the summer selling their souls for internships or exploiting college travel grants to go on holiday, Trinity Hall geographer Zafar Ansari has had a less typical time – playing professional cricket for Surrey. Which, in an age where Oxbridge no longer produces the stars of the England team, is pretty good for a student. I caught up with him at the start of August to talk Surrey, success, and Sky TV.
“From a personal point of view,” begins Ansari, “the summer could not have gone much better, with the opportunities to play first team cricket surpassing my expectations considerably.
“The best moment so far has probably been taking the wicket of Rob Key in my first Championship match to win the game on the last moment. The pressure of the situation made it particularly sweet.”
Pressure is something the second-year geographer has faced by the bucketload. Thrown in at the deep end in T20 matches, batting and bowling his left-arm spin, Ansari picked up the man-of-the-match award in his first game. His impressive early performances were rewarded with a regular spot in the one-day side and some games in the four-day matches.
As Surrey kept winning, the pressure kept increasing, culminating in a final at the home of cricket: Lord’s. Not only did Ansari play and Surrey win, he also took a wicket there – something every cricket fan dreams of.
It’s not just Surrey who’ve noticed his ability. Ansari has been picked in an England development squad, and has also been tipped by former England international Alec Stewart as a future international, after impressing in front of Sky TV cameras.
But Ansari is careful not to let it go to his head. “As soon as you put in a relatively good performance in front of the Sky ‘team’, you are always likely as a young player to receive a fair bit of attention,” he says. “However, their attention usually shifts to someone else after the novelty wears off, so it was all taken with a pinch of salt.”
Ansari has also enjoyed success with Cambridge this year. The Uni team recorded a famous 10 wicket win against a Kevin Pietersen-led Surrey side at Fenners last term, and also thrashed Oxford in all three formats of the game. Ansari suggests it was this run that put him in good stead for the summer.
“It was wonderful to be part of such successful Cambridge and Cambridge UCCE teams this year,” he says. “The high quality of players stood me in great stead going into the county stuff and it was also just very fun to be around a group of very friendly lads.”
Ansari mobbed by his Cambridge teammates after getting rid of KP at Fenners
Despite tasting the fame and successes of cricket this summer, Ansari is still committed to his degree. “I really enjoyed my first year,” he says, “and I’m keen to see the degree through. The Surrey stuff should not affect my degree in any significant way.”
But cricket is the long term goal after Uni. Asked about future aims, Ansari replied: “In three years time, I hope to have graduated from Cambridge with a good degree and be pushing for an England Lions place.”
Coming off such a good summer, Ansari could soon follow the footsteps of ex-Tabs and top players like Mike Atherton and Mike Brearley into the England side. But for now there is plenty more Oxford bashing (and geography) for Ansari to get on with.