It’s not the kind of serependipity you expect in Pakistan cricket. A fast bowler being transformed into a spinner, and him coming good. Few other nations in the cricket world after all have encouraged their youngsters to run in as fast as their legs can carry them and hurl thunderbolts with the same passion.
Karamat Ali too grew up dreaming of knocking batsmen’s heads and stumps off in that order. And the youngster too like many of his peers would try to emulate the feats of his fast-bowling heroes on TV while playing endless tape-ball cricket matches on the congested by-lanes of Lahore. The Pakistan U-19 star even insists on having begun his junior cricket career in 2006 with the sole goal of becoming his hometown’s most feared pacer. Fate, however, had other ideas and Ali would instead end up as a leg-spinner, a potent one at that, leading his country into the World Cup final solely with the trickery produced by his wrists. The unlikely transformation transpired on an unremarkable day at Lahore’s P&T Gymkhana ground. One that the 17-year-old remembers fondly.
“There were no spinners that day and my coach had already told me that with my height (five feet six inches) fast bowling would be a difficult thing to master. He told me to bowl spin and the first ball I bowled, I beat the batsman. Next ball, the same thing happened and since then, beating batsmen is something that I just love doing,” he says. Over the last three weeks, Ali’s not just beaten a lot of batsmen he has left many of them flummoxed and befuddled.
Though it might not compare with the joy of seeing fear in the batsmen’s eyes like many of his countrymen have in the past—and continue to do so—the youngster does insist on deriving a lot of joy by seeing his opponents in a state of absolute shock after having been undone by his guile.
“The transformation wasn’t all that easy. My idea of bowling spin was flighting the ball. I simply tossed it up and in a week’s time, batsmen were hammering me to all corners. It was here that my coach stepped in, telling me to economize my use of flight and at times think like a fast bowler. Try and work a batsmen out,” he recalls.
While he’s been a thorn in the opposition’s flesh througout the tournament, he reserved his best for England in the semi-final, even if he only finished with two victims. The first was with a regular leg-break, which pitched on middle and then broke away viciously, leaving batsman Ryan Higgins stranded miles down the wicket. Joe Clarke was next, bowled through the gap by a googly that would have put a smile on Mushtaq Ahmed’s face.
The third of five sons of an electrician with a small shop in one of Lahore’s bazaars, Ali dropped out of school in the eighth standard. His father was understandably displeased with his son’s decision. But luckily he found support continued…