They say, 'Cricket runs in the blood,' and though cricket families are not uncommon but are rare, a cricket team comprising all family members is unique.
A team of eleven players, all hailing from the same family, and proudly called themselves Kirmani XI!
Barely eleven years old then, Farooq Kirmani was the youngest player in team Kirmani XI.
"I have been playing cricket since I was 10 years old. Everyone told me since I was young that I would be a really good player. In Pakistan, you have to be a very good player, and I guess I stood out with my batting, bowling, and personality, "recalls the cricketer turned coach.
Born in Pakistan, young Kirmani started playing cricket with his brothers and cousins from an early age. Right-handed test players like Haroon Rashid and Mansoor Akhtar left a significant impact on young Kirmani's batting and bowling styles. As a result, just like his seniors, Kirmani turned out to be a right-handed batsman and a right-arm off-spin bowler.
"These are all the test players that have played with me, "reminisces Kirmani with a happy smile.
Farooq Kirmani made his international debut in February 1972. In the first match that he played for the Karachi Whites, he showed his mettle by hitting a maiden half-century. In the next season, this talented batsman scored 76, not out against the Public Works Department. In May 1974, Kirmani played for the Karachi Blues and later in the 1974–75 season, he represented Sindh in the Pentangular Trophy, a one-off event played in Lahore. Kirmani's final first-class appearance came in January 1975, when he played a game for Sindh B in the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy.
In 1975, Kirmani decided to immigrate to Canada with full support from his family." Although, Pakistan is a stronger nation in terms of cricket. I came to Canada for studies and to make a better life for my family and myself."
Those were tough times when young Kirmani had dreams in his heart but had little means to achieve them. But his determination just kept him going. "The initial years in Canada were very hard. I don't know how I kept going. You just do. Because I had to, so I did." The hardship of living in a foreign country made Kirmani psychologically strong, which later came of much use in his cricketing career and in his coaching practice.
Few friends and well-wishers in Canada knew and believed in Kirmani's potential. With their help, Kirmani began playing for the National Sports Club. In 1979, he was introduced by Shah Zafar, the current Vice President and Director of Ontario High-performance program and Camps, to Austin Ward, the then Chairman of the selection committee.
This was a morale booster for young Kirmani." I got my rhythm back after realizing that Canada is my home, and I got into seriously playing cricket for Canada, so I worked hard to play for Canada." affirms Kirmani.
What followed is history. Kirmani ended up playing three World Cup games for Canada. He scored 122 runs from his three innings in the 1982 ICC trophy in England. He made his team's highest score (107)in the tournament against Kenya. In the 1986 ICC Championship, Kirmani scored 191 runs. In 1989, Kirmani played a World Cup game at the Rogers Centre (formerly Skydome), an honour bestowed for the first time on any Canadian player.
With his good performance at international cricket, responsibilities got expanded for Kirmani. For the 1990 ICC Trophy, the cricketer was appointed Canada's Captain, replacing Clement Neblett. Kirmani has captained Canada Senior Men's team for 12 years.
Albeit a bit unfortunate that he could not continue playing for his home country, Kirmani feels lucky that Canada happened to him ." Being able to see the world and travel to different countries playing cricket has been an honour along with representing Canada in the sport of cricket, "asserts Kirmani.
Every good thing comes to an end. But in reality, an end is just a beginning because the ending begins in a new way. And so it happened with Kirmani when he played his last game for Canada in 1993 against West Indies.
As Kirmani bid adieu to the cricket field, he was faced with life's most persistent and urgent question," What can I do to give back to sports?"
After playing for his family team and doing freelance coaching, Kirmani started full-time cricket coaching in 1999 with the Toronto District program.
Today, Farooq Kirmani is a Certified Level II Coach (Canada Cricket Associations), certified by Cricket Canada train Level 1 coaches (2011).
Kirmani is passionate about coaching, and he is highly respected for grooming young cricketers.
"There is a need for young players to have a coach and a passionate coach," says Kirmani.
Kirmani has coached players worldwide from Canada to South Africa (Head Coach U-19 World Cup South Africa 2020) to New Zealand(Head Coach U-19 World Cup,2018 ).
In his own country, Kirmani has been the Head Coach for Cricket Ontario since 2010 – Current (U15-U19). He was the Selector/Coach Team Ontario in 2012. He was the Canadian National U19 Team Coach (ICC Intercontinental Cup, 2009), Canadian Junior Elite Program Coach (2005‐2010), Selector for Senior Team Cricket Canada 2008 and Canadian National U19 Team Coach (ICC Intercontinental Cup, 2009).
Under Kirmani's coaching, the Canadian U15 Team earned two Championship titles in 2008 and 2009. Kirmani also coached Ontario U18 – Ontario that won the Canada Cup Title 2012 in Vancouver. He also coached Ontario U16 & U19 – Ontario and won Canada Cup Title 2012-16.
Kirmani believes that the future of Canadian youth cricket is very bright. However, more opportunities and facilities are needed to groom players.
Kirmani established Canadian Junior Elite Program that he has been running for the past 10 years with this mission.
Kirmani's coaching style is an interesting combination of physical fitness and mental conditioning. He stresses that players can build character through cricket that also helps them tackle the vagaries of life. The coach plays a critical role in this, feels Kirmani. First, the coach himself exhibits character to develop it, and then he instils it in his team members to exhibit it. The coach is the one who leads and grooms his players, not just to play cricket but to be an all-around athlete. According to Kirmani, excellence in cricket is just not physical strength. Success in sports emanates from the whole individual. His personality, mental makeup, clarity of his thought, and value system feels Kirmani.
Coaching is a fine balancing act, shares coach Kirmani. The relation between the coach and the captain is crucial. There must be a good understanding between the coach and the captain, reflecting on the team and its performance. There have been times when a coach is in charge of making a decision for his team, and the decision has been hard. A coach's responsibilities revolve around picking the team, planning, and strategy for the game. "The only thing you cannot do as a coach is you cannot play in the game, "laughs Kirmani." But you can give your plan and strategy to the captain, and he leads it in the game."
Canadian cricket has huge potential, feels Kirmani. The current challenges of not having a home stadium and proper training facilities for players and inviting other opposition to play could be overcome with more planning and concerted teamwork. Attention needs to be paid to players' lesser opportunities to go overseas and get exposure in different cricket forms, weather.
Coach Kirmani is fully involved in U19 cricket for Canada and Ontario junior program. He has no immediate retirement plan.
But if he could turn the clock, sports remain his love, and Kirmani would have tried his luck at soccer.
A busy man with a supportive family and a gratifying job for Toronto city in Transportation, Farooq Kirmani believes that health is wealth.
"If you stay healthy and strong, you'll live longer."
The journey so far has been wonderful, and I am excited to travel on a long road ahead, "concludes Kirmani.