Bilal Asif was trained to be an off-spinner by Amir Waseem. At Tony cricket club in Sialkot the former left-arm spinner had mentored Asif till the latter left for Kuwait in 2008 to assist his electrician father. A lot of budding cricketers in the subcontinent are used to living in deprivation . Asif’s childhood – a Daska boy, about 26 kilometres off Sialkot – was no different.
Saeed Ajmal made his Test debut at 32; against Sri Lanka at Galle in 2009. The offie returned with five wickets, two innings combined. On Tuesday, at the Dubai International Stadium, Asif trumped his more illustrious predecessor, both age-wise and with his performance. At 33, playing his first Test, against Australia, on a pitch which Dean Jones described as “a road”, Asif returned with 6/36 from 21.3 overs. He made the Aussies bite the dust after a 142-run opening stand.
But Asif missed his mentor on the day of his dream debut. Waseem died last month, at 57. Nadeem Omar, however, would be a happy man today. The owner of the Quetta Gladiators had advised former Pakistan chief selector Haroon Rasheed to consider Asif for the national team.
Omar is a cricket patron, who apart from owning the Pakistan Super League franchise, helms the Pakistan Cricket Club and Omar Associates. The Pakistan Cricket Club is the game’s nursery in Karachi, which has nurtured the likes of Sarfraz Ahmed, Asad Shafiq, Shan Masood, Rumman Raees and Azhar Ali. Omar Associates feature in the Grade II Patron’s Trophy. It was in the Patron’s Trophy final against Karachi Port Trust in April 2015 Asif rose to prominence, albeit as a batsman.
“Asif scored a century in that game (Patron’s Trophy final) and picked a few wickets, and Nadeem Omar told Haroon Rasheed that he should be considered for the national team. We gave him a platform at Omar Associates. In fact, I spotted him, when he was playing local cricket for the Amir Waseem academy in Karachi. In Pakistan, a lot of local cricket is played during the Ramzan month and during one of those matches, I saw him and informed Nadeem Omar, who signed him up for Omar Associates,” Azam Khan, the secretary-cum-coach of the Pakistan Cricket Club, told The Indian Express.
Although Asif made his first-class debut in 2011, his career stagnated till he starred in the Parton’s Cup final. Six months hence, in October 2015, he made his ODI debut against Zimbabwe. Two ODIs later he was dropped still waiting for a second chance in the shorter format. Asif was part of the 2015 Pakistan Test squad against England as well, when Mohammad Hafeez and Ajmal fell prey to suspect action. The lanky off-spinner, however, didn’t get a game.
According to Khan, Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed is the reason why Asif got into the Test squad against Australia.
“Sarfraz convinced the selectors that Asif would be pretty useful against Australia because they have a whole host of left-handers,” Khan said.