Zafar Ansari has never made any secret of the fact that cricket is not the only thing in his life, a burgeoning career in the county game proving no obstacle as he continued to thrive in the academic arena.
Combining his sport with his studies is something Ansari has managed with great success throughout his time with Surrey, undertaking a politics, philosophy and sociology degree at Cambridge University – and eventually earning a double first – at the same time as he was helping his county to victory in the 2011 CB Trophy.Even as he was preparing to make his Test debut for England last autumn, the all-rounder was in the process of completing, with a distinction, a masters in history from Royal Holloway.
“Cricket is not the end for me. My life isn’t directed towards it. Cricket is a part of my life,” he told espncricinfo.com shortly after his call up to the England squad for 2015 Test series against Pakistan in the UAE – a series he ultimately missed due to a thumb injury.
And yet, despite those comments, Ansari’s decision to retire from cricket at the age of 25, mere months after earning his first Test cap, has come as a shock to many in the cricket community.
Perhaps, though, it was that first taste of international cricket that helped make up his mind?
Certainly, Ansari’s introduction to Test cricket was not a simple one, his maiden appearance coming as England suffered a humbling first Test match defeat to Bangladesh, in Dhaka, with the debutant scoring just 13 runs and his left-arm spin yielding only two wickets on a sharply turning track.
He kept his place for the opening Test in India but after taking a further three wickets and making 32 with the bat, he went wicketless and contributed a total of four runs across two innings in the second game of the series. As a result he lost his place in the side.
Having reached the pinnacle, for many, of the game, Test cricket, by the age of 24 and with his academic accomplishments giving him an assortment of abbreviations after his name, it is clear that Ansari is accustomed to excelling, whatever the arena.
Having been found wanting on the international stage, and with an England recall appearing unlikely in the near future, it is easy to see how Ansari may have come to the conclusion that he might never reach the levels of excellence as a cricketer that he strives for.
“Cricket tests you because there are lots of ups and downs, lots of tough days (but) I still felt there was a lot left in the tank,” England batting coach Mark Ramprakash said of his former Surrey team-mate’s showing on the subcontinent.
“Perhaps he felt, given the experiences in the winter, that he had experienced cricket at the top level. Then this year, being in and around the Surrey team, if he feels that he hasn’t quite got that 100 per cent motivation that is required, he has made the right decision.
“I think everybody at Surrey, we’re all aware that he has the flexibility to choose other career paths. I guess he has reached that point where he feels that he has given cricket a good crack and perhaps now, while he is still a very young man, he is going to get out and pursue a different direction.”
Ramprakash admitted that he was “not totally surprised” by Ansari’s decision and Kumar Sangakkara, who played with the left-hander at Surrey for the past two summers, echoed that sentiment.
“I think over the last year there has been a bit of an internal debate that Zafar has had with himself and he has spoken to his family,” the Sri Lankan great told Sky Sports News HQ.
“He made an announcement to us in the Surrey dressing room about his decision and why he made it. Once he put all the facts out in the open it was not easy, but it was plain to see why he had made that decision.
“At Surrey, he was the man who balanced our side – particularly in the shorter versions of the game – but he’s a highly educated, very talented man who feels that there are other callings for him in life. I thought it was a very brave decision; he felt it was his time to move on from this game.
“It’s not an easy decision to make. A lot of cricketers play a very long time, holding on, scared of what’s out there after they retire or leave the sport, but for him it’s a fresh start and, knowing the man, I think he’ll be very successful in what he does.”Given his decision, Ansari too must be confident of making a success of his new career. He is a man clearly determined to be the best at what he does and, while that may not be cricket, if his past achievements are anything to go by, he has every chance of fulfilling that ambition in whatever field he chooses.