DUBAI: 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 Bilal 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 142-0 to 202 all out.
That gave Bilal third best innings figures on Test debut for a Pakistani bowler behind Mohammad Zahid (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.
Bilal, however, said it had been worth the wait, praising former skipper Malik for some timely advice.
“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,” Bilal recalled. “It was a worthy return.”
The tall and energetic Bilal hails from a small town of Allo Mahar Sharif, close to Sialkot 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 the squad for the two-match series against Sri Lanka, but did not feature as team management thought he was still not ready.
Bilal’s chance finally came as Pakistan deemed him useful against Australia’s three left-handers in the top order in the Dubai Test.
Bilal 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 Bilal, who overshadowed his more illustrious spin partner Yasir Shah, who went wicketless on Tuesday.
“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 Bilal, who was dismissed for a duck after being sent in at number three to see out Tuesday’s play. “I knew that my chance would come, so I waited and waited and thanks God I have done myself proud by getting six wickets on debut. At this point in time it’s a tremendous feeling.”
Bilal disclosed initially he found the going tough. “I was struggling a bit in the first session, but team-mates and coaches gave me confidence and that increased my energy which helped me get six wickets.”
Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2018