The hardest decision of my life
Sometimes, the hardest decisions in your life turn out to be your best.
You canâ€™t know it at the time. Youâ€™re in the moment, racked with doubt, and your mind is taking youÂ in a thousand different directions all at once. But, over time, you get perspective. And the very thingÂ you dreaded becomes the thing that makes you.
I see that very clearly in my decision to move from NSW to Queensland in 2012.
I didnâ€™t want to leave Sydney at the time. Since we arrived as a family from Islamabad when I wasÂ five, Sydney had been home. All my friends, family and teammates were there. It was pretty muchÂ all I knew.
But Iâ€™d reached a point in my life where I wasnâ€™t particularly happy. And I certainly wasnâ€™t enjoyingÂ my cricket. It wasnâ€™t specifically because of NSW or my teammates, it was me. I owe Cricket NSW aÂ lot. They developed me, brought me through the first-class system and ultimately into the Test side.
But for whatever reason it just wasnâ€™t happening for me, and I needed a change.Â I knew if I was to grow as a cricketer, I had to leave. Boof Lehmann was the Queensland coach at theÂ time and I liked his laidback approach to life.
One of my good mates from NSW, Peter Forrest, wasÂ also up here and so was another good friend, Ben Cutting. They really talked up the place and madeÂ me feel like I could play the way I wanted under Boof.
I made the decision to make the move. It was quite a late call so it meant taking a fairly hefty payÂ cut. But this move had nothing to do with money. It was about rediscovering my love for cricket. IÂ loaded up my car with all my belongings and drove up to Brissie.
It was quite lonely at the start. I spent my first three months on my own in an apartment inÂ Kangaroo Point. I would pretty much go to training, come home and then wait for someone to beÂ free to hang out with me.
It was like, â€?Does anyone want to do anything? Guys. Guys?â€™Â But, bit by bit, things got better. Ben bought a house with an extra room in it, which I took over. IÂ started enjoying my cricket again. The runs followed and so did the opportunities, like theÂ Queensland captaincy and Aussie recalls.
And then one day I invited over Jack Wildermuth and Josh Dascombe to play FIFA. I was recoveringÂ from surgery to my ACL at the time. Little did I know Josh double-parked his Saturday night withÂ another group of friends. One of them he was pretty good mates with.
She was coming over to sayÂ gâ€™day and we were all going to play some lame game called Monopoly Cards that all three of themÂ were addicted to.Â Thatâ€™s how I met Rach.
â€?BLOODY CHRISTMAS HAMS!â€™I made the mistake of underestimating her at first. I pigeon-holed her as a â€?typical Brissie girlâ€™ â€“Â whatever that means. Maybe I thought because she had a white, Catholic upbringing she wouldnâ€™tÂ understand me or my familyâ€™s culture or, most importantly, my religion.Â I couldnâ€™t have been more wrong if Iâ€™d tried.
After weâ€™d been dating for a little while, I told her about my faith. It wasnâ€™t the hard sell. I never said,Â â€?You have convert to Islam or I canâ€™t be with you.â€™ It was more like, â€?I want to be totally open fromÂ the start of our relationship.Â My religion is very close to my heart. Would you be interested inÂ learning more about it?â€™
I knew the importance of being honest and open really early from pastÂ experiences and how other people had dealt with it.Â I was expecting a bit of, â€?Ummmmm, Iâ€™m not sure about this.â€™
Instead, Rach told me, â€?Iâ€™ve already started reading about it.â€™ She explained how her mum hadÂ bought her a book on Islam not long after weâ€™d met. She knew how important my religion was to meÂ and she wanted to develop a deeper understanding.
I was pretty shocked. It was the first time I thought, â€?Wow, this could be it.â€™
We had many, many conversations before she made the decision to convert. I was probably moreÂ nervous than she was. I was constantly asking, â€?Are you sure youâ€™re ready? Donâ€™t do it if youâ€™re not!Â Â Thereâ€™s no timeline, no rush!â€™
Iâ€™d also ask, â€?If something happens to me, would you still be Muslim?â€™ Thatâ€™s an important questionÂ to me because if the answer is no, then it wouldâ€™ve meant she was only converting for me, not forÂ her. Thatâ€™s not the way it should be.
So much has happened since then. We got married earlier in the year, weâ€™ve travelled around theÂ world and weâ€™ve grown closer together in faith. And throughout the whole journey, sheâ€™s never lostÂ her sense of humour.
Around Christmas time each year sheâ€™ll bring up the â€?bloody Christmas hams!â€™ and how she doesnâ€™tÂ eat pork anymore. And Iâ€™m like, â€?Theyâ€™re not that good anyway, donâ€™t worry about it.â€™ Itâ€™s alwaysÂ good for a laugh.
Rach also likes to remind me that every one of my Test centuries has come since I met her.Â She says it as a joke, but thereâ€™s probably something to it. My family and Rachel are the mostÂ important people in terms of helping me get to where I am, staying grounded and being grateful forÂ everything I have achieved.
After weâ€™d been dating for a little while, I told her about my faith. It wasnâ€™t the hard sell. I never said,Â â€?You have convert to Islam or I canâ€™t be with you.â€™
Iâ€™m a pretty closed-off personality. I donâ€™t chat to a lot of people in my life. I have to really trustÂ someone to open up to them and for a lot of years I would just kind of let things snowball until theyÂ came a bigger deal than they shouldâ€™ve been.
Rach understands more than anyone that cricket is just a game. A lot of times she can be quite blasÃ©Â about it â€“ when Iâ€™m batting sheâ€™s usually chatting away somewhere in the box - so when I saw herÂ crying in the stands after my century in Dubai it was kind of funny.
Iâ€™ve been calling her a big cryÂ baby ever since!Â But I know where she was coming from.
Rach has been through on a rollercoaster with me. Sheâ€™s been with me through some of the bad timesÂ and this was one of the good times. Not all that long ago on the Sri Lanka tour, I played two TestÂ matches and was dropped. That wasnâ€™t much fun. Itâ€™s always a tough time. I donâ€™t think peopleÂ realise how difficult it is going in and out of a team.
A few years earlier, that wouldâ€™ve really thrown me. But Rach reiterated what weâ€™d been talkingÂ about previously, about not worrying about things that are out of your control, about trusting Godâ€™s plan.
It helped me a lot. There will always be ups and downs. Iâ€™d be naÃ¯ve to think there wonâ€™t be anyÂ more downs. But the key is to play the game and enjoy it while it lasts. You never know when yourÂ timeâ€™s up. And after that, thereâ€™s life after cricket. God willing, we will spend a lot more timeÂ together outside of cricket than inside it.
The other people who I lean on have always been my mum and dad. I have never met anyone moreÂ devoted to their son than mum. She prays every ball when I bat. Seriously. Every ball! I tell her toÂ relax and accept whatever is meant to be will be. But she canâ€™t.