During his evening prayers on the 16th of December 2002, Aasif Karim’s phone rang. He did not answer it, his daughter did. The caller was Asif Papamshi, the Kenyan chairman of selectors.
Four years earlier Asif had told Aasif that he should think about retiring, the sort of way selectors tell sportsmen in a non subtle way they are about to be sacked. These two friends had barely talked since then.
Now, Asif Papamshi was calling, begging, for Aasif to come back for the 2003 World Cup.
Aasif Karim did play, and Kenya and this 39-year-old insurance broker made the semi-final of a World Cup. In their penultimate game against the bullies of cricket and the soon to be back-to-back World Cup winners Aasif did something magnificent. After eight overs he had the figures of six maidens, two runs and three wickets. Aasif Karim did what top teams couldn’t do in that World Cup, or that era, embarrass Australia.
This was the 23rd year of Aasif’s career, before that day, virtually no one in the world knew he played cricket, no one really noticed before that World Cup that his nation played cricket. He had been an invisible servant to an ignored team for over 20 years.
That was his one day. To many cricket fans, it is one that they won’t ever forget.
Aasif’s career, is one of the most remarkable in cricket. He started with taking the wicket of Duncan Fletcher with his first ball in international cricket, then going on to take the wickets of Rizwan-uz-Zaman, Shoaib Mohammad, Mike Atherton, Rahul Dravid, Dilip Vengsarkar and Ricky Ponting, before facing Sachin Tendulkar on the last ball he faced for Kenya. In between he played as a junior at the French Open, was on a tennis scholarship in an American college, played Davis cup tennis and captained Kenya at the Nigerian Presidents Cup.
Aasif’s story is preceded by that of his father. Yusif Karim, a 16-year-old immigrant in Kenya’s second city, Mombasa. One day he will have a road named after him. One day he will be known as the king of the Mombasa courts. One day he will father a cricket empire. But for 25 straight years he won the Mombasa residents singles championship. He won it in his teens, and in his 40s. On top of that he was good enough with the bat in hand to be offered a County Cricket opportunity.
Now Aasif’s son, Irfan Karim, is playing for the Kenyan cricket team. After only nine ODIs he has two hundreds and an average of over 40.
All three men are featured in ‘The Karims: a sporting dynasty’ which is a documentary (and eventually will be a book) on this magnificent family. The tagline for the film is “Three Generations. Two Sports. One Family”.
The documentary is funded by Aasif Karim himself. Kenya discard their sports heroes, there are no museums of sport, no ministry of sport. This is a country with many heroes, but none they remember. Aasif is terrified that his family’s achievements will be forgotten as many of Kenyan’s greatest athletes have been.
The documentary is in no way perfect, if you only watch high end Alex Gibney level documentaries, the lack of production values will be a real shock to you. It is a self-funded documentary from a country without top end production values.
But the heart and the work that has gone into this film from the Karim family is what makes it connect with people. It has been nominated for film awards in India and Iran. This is almost a film about the community around this family, and the nation they come from, as much as their sporting endeavours.
Even with it being self-funded, Aasif has still managed to get sub titles into several languages, including Urdu. He wants his story to inspire others. He believes sport can change people’s lives. And has just started the Safinaz Foundation to do just that in Kenya.
Whether on or off the field, the Karims have had to overcome so many obstacles, all have given their lives for sport, despite the fact they have never made any money off it.
This film starts when Kenya was a segregated place and Yusuf Karim was starting against the MCC and Basil D’Oliveira while signs in some of the nation’s cricket clubs still said “No Dogs, No Asians”.
The film veers from a social documentary to one that could almost be on the most dysfunctional Pakistani cricket team. It has a real heart, and should have been made by a hungry young film producer, not the family themselves. Thankfully they did make it, as this is too good a story to overlook.
Aasif Karim wants Bollywood to make his documentary into a feature film. Aasif Karim wants the President of Kenya to come to his book launch. Aasif Karim wants to build a Sports Museum in Kenya. Aasif Karim wants you to know he is proud of what his nation and his family can do. Aasif Karim wants to inspire the next generations to achieve just as much.
Much like his sporting career, if he has to do it on his own, for many decades, unpaid, most of the time being ignored, he will. By watching his film, and telling his story to others, you can help one of the true heroes of cricket.
A man who does words for ESPNcricinfo | @ajarrodkimber