One year after succeeding Darren Talbot as Coach of the Iceland national cricket team, Keenan Botha has stepped down from the post, owing to a long-term injury which has forced him to reconsider his playing roles and responsibilities.
The new Coach will be Ihtisham-ul-Haq, who has been involved with Icelandic cricket for several years, and retired from playing last year. As well as playing domestic cricket regularly, he appeared for the Iceland national team in three matches in 2015.
Bala Kamallakharan, the Chairman of the Icelandic Cricket Association, said: “Haq has been around for over a decade now and I’ve never seen anybody more dedicated to building cricket here. He’s been around the coaching setup for two years now, and we feel he’s grown into a coaching role.”
It was tough for the players in Iceland to undergo rigorous training during 2020, owing to coronavirus measures affecting sporting activities. The few opportunities were not wasted by Botha, though. “I’m very proud of how the players improved, and how dedicated and committed they were, before the restrictions returned,” he says. He is keen to throw his support behind Haq, adding “He is really organised, and will put a good training structure in place, which I think the guys need because they haven’t been training and they aren’t in form.”
Haq says he is looking forward to the challenge. “I was born in Pakistan, where cricket is the second religion. I developed several clubs in Pakistan in the 1990s and ran tournaments in Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and the Netherlands. I’m big on commitment, punctuality and mental and physical health. I’m really confident about what we’re going to achieve here. Above all, I’m very grateful for the opportunity.” He also claims to be the world’s leading expert on playing cricket outdoors in Arctic environments.
Although a coaching cycle is typically considered to be around four seasons, as served by Talbot from 2016 to 2019, Haq is bullish about his immediate prospects. “The aim is to win trophies. This year. That’s the only significant achievement, for me. Winning one or two games at a tournament is failure. Not only failure, but a sheer waste of time.” He went further, adding “I’m a huge fan of test cricket. I hope to have the first test match in Iceland, against the England team.”
Kamallakharan was more circumspect about his expectations. He quoted baseball star Yogi Berra, saying “It’s always difficult to predict the future in sports, but I think we have some really good players and if we build a decent team we have a pretty good chance. That’s the fun thing. You never know. This is a start, but I believe Haq has the potential to be an inspirational coach and inspire a winning team. I’ll say there’s a fifty-fifty chance we’ll win half our games, even if we don’t win all of them. I like the odds.”