'I always aspired to represent Pakistan and I still have the same dream rather than go for leagues' - Umaid Asif
Interview by Rvel Zahid
Umaid Asif represented Karachi Kings in Pakistan Super League 2020 season and before that the lanky paceman was part of Peshawar Zalmi's family. Being at the wrong side of his 30s doesn't make a difference to him because Umaid puts fitness at the top of his agenda and above anything else. At one point of time, he was at the crossroads to pick cricket or chartered accountancy. He moved to Lahore for studies but instead fell in love with the game and the city - which is famous for its picturesque Mughal architecture and sumptuous cuisine - paved the way for his PSL debut. In August 2018, he was awarded the central contract and almost broke into the national team.
How are you spending time in the lockdown and how do you see coronavirus pandemic impact on cricket in the future?
I have made two training sessions in my daily routine during this lockdown. One in the morning (cardio) and the other in the evening. I did strength, power training, with whatever little equipment I have got at home. I have made a sort of a draft for the entire day and I try to stick to it.
Apart from that, I am enjoying spending time with my family and I try to help in the house chores, help my wife as much as possible. You know kids are not going to school so I keep my daughter busy in activities and we play a lot of games. I see a bit of Netflix and movies. It's the fasting month so so I up until dawn and after offering my prayers and then after breaking fast, I go for training.
About the effect of this lockdown and the entire situation, the anxiety level is rising and people are going into depression but I think if you have a goal or a motivation then you won’t go in a negative frame of mind because you have got enough time to prepare in advance and identify your goals and that’s what I am doing.
Once everything will be back to normal and lockdown conditions will ease, I guess cricketers would be hesitant and I was watching the other day on the news that we can’t shine the ball and so a wax (applicator) is going to be introduced. There are going to be financial losses as well but hopefully, we will get through this situation quickly.
Players keep interacting among themselves but I don’t think our behaviour would change much (post-COVID-19) unless you become obsessive about it and become overly depressed or something.
How would you assess your performance in the recent HBL PSL 2020?
Look cricketer should never be satisfied with his performance and the same goes for me. I think I could have done a lot better in (PSL 2020) and I should have played all the games but I had a few niggles and I had to rest. I could have bowled better and apart from that, in batting, in the last game against Islamabad, the role I played in the win and the first game when I saved 16 runs against Liam Livingstone and Daren Sammy was special.
You defended 16 runs against Peshawar Zalmi in the second match of the recent PSL and bowled a tight line and length. What was going through your mind in that final over and what do you usually plan while bowling at death?
Actually, you might remember in National T20 Cup (2019), I couldn’t save 18 runs but after that, I worked hard and there was a similar situation against Peshwar Zalmi - when Livingstone and Sammy were on the crease - and there were like four-five overs left. There I felt I might get to ball the last over again and there was a bit of doubt that I might not be able to defend just like the last time (T20 Cup) but then I countered that thought and said ‘what has been the point of all training and what’s the use of it so jo hoga aesi ki tesi (I will see what comes my way) and I assessed Sammy’s and Livingstone’s strengths and weaknesses and bowled with variations to Sammy, used short balls, and bowled wide of the off-stump to Livingstone who miscued a shot and there was no fielder near so I went for it and it stuck in my hands.
Which of your performances are the most memorable for you?
I have taken quite a few fifers but the most special was against ZTBL when I was playing for National Bank. The fifer in my debut for Pakistan A was amazing. In first-class, I scored 97 and I was adjudged best all-rounder in 2018 season.
Umaid Asif with his trademark celebration ©Getty Images
What is with you and superheroes? Where did the idea for wearing superhero shirts and unique celebration come from?
Look every person is a superhero to someone, maybe to their kids, for their family, and I think I am one of them. There are tough times in life and we have to come out of it with perseverance as Allah says after every hardship comes ease. So we have to be patient, keep fighting. About the celebration, it portrays my struggles in life but I had to come out of those phases and I have a similar story to Iron Man so I have always admired Marvel superheroes movies and the idea occurred to me suddenly.
Which franchise did you enjoy representing more: Peshawar Zalmi or Karachi Kings?
Whenever you go to a new team, you learn. You know when you meet different players, you get to learn and learning never seizes. I had a different set of experiences with Peshawar Zalmi and now with Karachi Kings, it’s a different set-up. In Peshawar, Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Hafeez and coach Mohammad Akram taught me a lot and here in Karachi Kings, we had Wasim Akram and Dean Jones - who are World Cup winners and you get to see what’s a champion mindset is. I can’t say that where I was happier because both teams are like a family and it was my good fortune to share various dressing rooms. Currently, Babar Azam is the captain and the best batsman and in bowling, Mohammad Amir is there and so it's good to pick their brains.
What are the key elements to succeed as a fast bowler? What tips would you like to give to a young bowler?
To become a fast bowler, you have to be brave and proactive. In limited-overs cricket, we had Mitchell McClenaghan with us (in this season) and he asked 'what is the best quality of a fast bowler in T20?' I said 'why don't you tell me?' and he replied ‘short term memory’ (chuckles). So what it means is that you are going to get hit for boundaries in this ruthless format and if you are gonna make it a big deal then you may lose focus and your performance could go down in the next matches which could hinder a player from using their mental and physical capabilities fully. To a young fast bowler, my tip is to never give up. Make an aim, keep working hard and stay away from naysayers and never lose your heart.
How did you develop an interest in cricket and what was your journey like right from the early days?
I think growing up in the 90s, you can’t get a bigger inspirational figure than Imran Khan. After him, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Abdur Razzak are all our heroes and legends and they sparked my interest in the game.
I started my journey as a cricketer in school cricket. When we lost the quarter-final to India in the World Cup, I said to my father that I want to play cricket for Pakistan. He smiled and said okay. He thought I am just a kid and didn’t take me seriously but I always had that desire in me. I went to Lahore for studies, I was the captain of my A-levels team, and my cricket got better in Lahore. I played tape ball initially and then I was the captain of the SKANS (educational institute in Lahore) and played in many tournaments. I joined proper club cricket from 2006 after my mother passed away and my father said to me and my siblings that do whatever you want to do in life and you have my full backing. And when I joined cricket, he wasn’t really excited about it but he did support me at the same time and wanted me to complete my studies as well. My uncle, Tahir Mughal played for Sialkot Stallions and I said to my uncle that I do bowling and take a look at me and so he invited me to nets and when I bowled two balls, he said what you are doing? You are Pakistan-level bowler and advised me to join club. Thereon, I joined North club in Lahore and during the third year, coaches from Wapda picked me for trials and that’s how my career kicked off.
Your brother Faizan has represented UAE in the World Cup and it seems like you support each other unconditionally. How do you complement each other?
My elder brother is one of the most destructive batsmen and he supported me immensely. I didn’t have much support from anywhere else and I had difficulties in 2013-2014 and so the club he used to play for, he invited me there and the club guys liked me, we won many tournaments. So we don’t let each other get bogged down and you know what elder brothers are God’s blessing and their love is always unconditional. However, in the UAE, the system of cricket is different, you have to do a job as well alongside playing cricket.
How did you manage cricket and pursuing a degree in chartered accountancy simultaneously?
Actually, I haven’t completed charted accountancy, I started it after A-levels but I wasn’t really interested in it. I was always into cricket and in the third-fourth year of my studies, I shifted my focus entirely on cricket because I can’t sit in one place and work for hours. I mean even when I was studying, I would lie down and move and be impatient. I had mild asthma too so for me exercise has always been extremely important and cricket was my passion and when people used to appreciate my performances then I felt I must have something in me and I pursued it with full vigour.
What are your thoughts on the changes in domestic structure, the introduction of kookaburra balls and the lesser number of teams in domestic tournaments?
The changes in domestic cricket are positive. You have to bend your back and bowl with full effort now so those who used to slacken a bit and didn’t train much, they will have to train to harden now. The gap between international and domestic cricket can only be narrowed by increasing competitiveness. In last season, pitches were different and the balls too so it was a bit difficult for the bowlers but I can’t complain, I must adapt. I didn’t play in first five matches (of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy) but I did take a fifer and it was a great opportunity to plan for the next season and a different experience. These changes will help our domestic players perform well at the top-level.
What are your plans for the future?
After cricket, I might enter media and maybe into the commentary. I have got a lot of time due to this lockdown and so those who wanted to make good use of this break would have done it by now. Right now I am only focusing on cricket and gathering experience. When I started playing cricket, I always aspired to represent Pakistan and I still have the same dream rather than go for leagues so the priority is Pakistan. Hopefully, if I keep working hard, I might get the attention of selectors. Last year I was part o the central contracted (players) and almost played for Pakistan but unfortunately, it wasn't to be. I will keep working hard and some people take age into account but I don’t believe in this, I mean players who are 36 or 38 are world champions. Nowadays it’s about strength and conditioning and if you are fit you can pull it off and that is why I will keep focusing on my fitness and anything can happen, I am always optimistic.
Which was the most prized wicket in your career?
I believe every wicket is prized because you have to work hard for it. I don’t take into account who I am bowling to and I just have to take wickets and don’t go into that frame of mind that I can’t bowl anyone out but all the top batsmen in the world, Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson - I would love to get these batsmen out.