Exclusive: How MMA helped Azam Khan play fast bowlers

Azam, who plays his first match for Desert Vipers in ILT20 on Wednesday, opens up about his cricket goals and favourite singer

by

Rituraj Borkakoty

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Desert Vipers' Azam Khan bats during a training session. — Photos courtesy Desert Vipers
Desert Vipers' Azam Khan bats during a training session. — Photos courtesy Desert Vipers

Published: Tue 23 Jan 2024, 10:18 PM

Life in cricket has not been a bed of roses for Azam Khan, a talented wicketkeeper-batsman with a flair for shot-making.

His father, Moin Khan, was a maverick wicketkeeper who earned Pakistan many a famous win with his fearless batting in the lower middle order.

Naturally, the pressure to emulate his illustrious father has been big.

But the challenge of dealing with the trolls over his fitness has been even bigger.

This bulky man, though, refuses to give up on his dreams as he continues his quest to excel at the highest level.

Ahead of his first match at the ITL20 for the Desert Vipers on Wednesday, the 25-year-old Azam spoke to Khaleej Times about his cricketing ambitions and how MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) helped him overcome the fear of facing fast bowlers.

Q. All set for your first ILT20 game for the Desert Vipers?

I'm quite excited to play for the Vipers and it was a long wait for me, initially, I got picked by them last year as well but I couldn't get the NOC for PCB this year I'm really thankful to the Pakistan Cricket Board that they granted me the NOC for the competition and I'm looking forward to it. I'm very excited to join the Vipers.

Q. You were part of the Pakistan team in the recent T20 series against New Zealand? Do you believe you have a chance of being in contention for a place in the T20 World Cup team later this year?

I am obviously there, but I don't really think much about the future. I think it’s in the selectors’ hands, my job is to perform for every franchise that I play for. And I think it's going to be a tough competition (ILT20) because I've come back from the New Zealand series. So the conditions are quite different in the UAE. But I will try to adapt to them and perform for my team, that will be the goal for now.

Q. Being the son of a famous cricketer who was also Pakistan captain, there is always pressure on you to become as successful as him in international cricket…

I have always said that it's way more difficult for me rather than, you know, being a normal guy who is not from a cricketing background. I think it's a bit unfortunate for me that my dad has played so much cricket for Pakistan. So if your dad is a former cricketer, it gets really tough for you. But I'm trying to break the stereotype now. So let's see what happens in the future. My job is to perform and I don't care about the negatives.

Q. You seem to be very good at music. Some of your cover songs of famous Pakistani singers have gone viral on social media. Is it a kind of stressbuster for you?

I think yeah, it can be a stressbuster, because whenever I'm, you know, going for a big game or a big tournament, I always carry my guitar with me. So I think that can be a stressbuster for me. But it's a good hobby to have, especially during the Covid time. It was quite tough to go out. So it was better to learn a new skill, and I'm quite happy about it.

Q. Who are your favourite singers?

Favourite singers? That would be tough to answer because I have a lot of favourite artists. But if I have to name one, it would be Chris Martin from Cold Play.

Q. We have heard that you watch a lot of MMA fights and it has even helped you in your cricket. They are two very different sports…

Actually, at the initial stages of my career when I was playing for the Quetta Gladiators in the PSL (Pakistan Super League), I was very hesitant while batting against the fast bowlers. But I think MMA was one of the sports that really provided me with that strength, the mental strength I needed in my game. When the guy is in the cage, they can beat themselves out. So why can’t I take a few blows on my body from the fast bowlers? I think that was a key factor and I started watching a lot of MMA (fights).

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