Ten years ago Bilal Asif had almost quit cricket by joining his father in Kuwait to work as an electrician, but a change of heart brought about by ex-Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik has paid dividends.
On Tuesday Asif became the latest spinning bete noire for Australia, snatching 6-36 in the first Test in Dubai to trigger a spectacular collapse for the Baggy Greens, who lost 10 wickets for 60 runs as they slumped from a soild 142-0 to 202 all out.
That gave Asif third best innings figures on Test debut for a Pakistani bowler behind Mohammad Asif (7-64) and Mohammad Nazir (7-99).
The 33-year-old made his international debut when he played three one-dayers for Pakistan in Zimbabwe in 2015, but had to wait another three years for a Test role.
Asif, however, said it had been worth the wait, praising former skipper Malik for some timely advice.
– Back from Kuwait –
“It’s an old story that I went to Kuwait to help my father, but Malik advised me to return and fight hard for a place in the Pakistan team,” recalled Asif. “It was a worthy return.”
The tall and energetic Asif hails from a small town of Allo Mahar Sharif, close to Sialkot in the northeast Punjab which has produced players like batting great Zaheer Abbas, Ijaz Ahmed, Malik and Haris Sohail.
During his one-day stint in Zimbabwe his bowling action was reported as illegal, but on assessment, it was cleared — another tough phase of his career.
Last year he was included in Pakistan’s squad for the two-match series against Sri Lanka but did not feature as team management thought he was still not ready.
Asif’s chance finally came as Pakistan deemed him useful against Australia’s three left-handers in the top order in the Dubai Test.
Asif said his success was a reward for hard work and patience.
“Being a professional cricketer, you have to be tough mentally. I always kept working hard. I didn’t think whether I would get a chance or not,” said Asif, who overshadowed his more illustrious spin partner Yasir Shah, who went wicketless in Australia’s 202 all out.
Pakistan, having gained a lead of 280 in the first innings, closed the third day at 45-3 in their second innings, an overall lead of 325 runs.
“I was out of the team since 2015. I was at the National Cricket Academy camp where I worked with head coach Mushtaq Ahmed. I got the reward for that hard work,” said Asif, who was dismissed for a duck after being sent in at number three to see out Tuesday’s play.