Big or small, dreams can come true. Even though he didn’t get to play, as a member of Pakistan’s Test squad for the series against Australia and Sri Lanka last year, Kashif Bhatti’s childhood dream shows signs of reaching fruition.
It’s been 31 years since the left-arm spinner Iqbal Qasim last played a Test match. During this time, many left-arm spinners have come and gone in the Pakistan team, but none have been able to make their mark as Qasim did. That is the reason that everyone has now pinned their hopes on Bhatti who hails from Nawabshah and was born only two years before Qasim retired.
Nawabshah in Sindh is not known for producing first-class cricketers, let alone Test cricketers. Bhatti began playing cricket just like any other cricket fanatic Pakistani boy who covers a tennis ball with scotch tape, goes out in the streets and plays his heart out until dusk.
It was the 1996 ICC Cricket World Cup hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka which made Bhatti fall in love with the game. As a 10-year-old, he started to follow cricket on TV.
Though still untested in the longer version of the game, the 33-year old left-arm spinner Kashif Bhatti has been selected in Pakistan’s Test squad twice. And it seems it won’t be long before he makes his debut
“I was young with some sense of cricket,” he says. “Daniel Vettori, the left-arm spinner from New Zealand, was the first bowler who impressed me and he is still my favourite bowler.
“I used to play in the streets with a tape ball. My elder brother Aarif played with a hard ball. One day, I went to the ground to watch my brother play. They were a few players short so they asked me to field. The senior coach, Hamid Hussain, was watching me in the field and told my brother that this boy has talent, bring him to the nets.”
The coach’s words proved tremendously encouraging for Bhatti and he started taking cricket seriously. “I started playing with a proper cricket ball. Slowly and gradually, I became better at batting. Later on, I got selected to play in an Under-19 tournament for District Nawabshah where I performed well and picked up quite a few wickets,” he recalls.
Subsequently, he joined the regional cricket academy in Hyderabad and then went to the National Cricket Academy in Lahore in 2004.
It is often seen that those who are considerate to you or motivate you during your struggling days always remain close to your heart. “The local coaches in my city Choudary Akram Arain and Hamid Hussain Khaskheli have helped me a lot,” says Bhatti. “Hamid Sahib used to bring new and semi-new balls to the nets. When I played for my department team UBL, the former Test cricketer Masood Anwar, who was also a left-arm spinner, would also help me with my bowling and I greatly admired him,” Bhatti adds.
Bhatti may still be a rookie at the international level but he has been playing first-class cricket for a good number of years now. He has played 84 first-class matches and taken 331 wickets with an average of 22.98, which is quite outstanding for a spinner. He also has 2,707 first-class runs and two centuries to his name.
Nawabshah in Sindh is not known for producing first-class cricketers, let alone Test cricketers. Bhatti began playing cricket just like any other cricket fanatic Pakistani boy who covers a tennis ball with scotch tape, goes out in the streets and plays his heart out until dusk. It was the 1996 ICC Cricket World Cup hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka which made Bhatti fall in love with the game.
“I was selected in the regional team on the basis of my performance at the district level,” he points out. “I made my first-class debut for Hyderabad in the match against HBL in the 2007-8 season and later on, I joined UBL.”
During his debut match, played in Hyderabad, Bhatti bowled 26 overs, conceded 78 runs and got two wickets. His first ever scalp was the prized wicket of Rafatullah Mohmand who, at the time, was considered one of the top batsmen in the domestic circuit.
Hyderabad lost that match by an innings and 122 runs, but the result of the match did not dampen Bhatti’s passion. It did not take long for his first fifer. In his third first-class match at the Niaz Stadium Hyderabad, he took five wickets in the first innings against Wapda, including the wicket of wicket-keeper batsman Zulqarnain Hyder, who later played Test matches for the Pakistan team.
Despite performing reasonably well with the ball, Kashif did not turn heads, perhaps because he was not consistent enough. But the month of March 2017 brought good news for him when the former chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq shortlisted him for a three-day training camp in Lahore, where former Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur monitored players’ skills, fitness and fielding. The other notable name in that camp was Mohammad Abbas, who is now spearheading Pakistan’s Test bowling attack.
Finally, in the 2017/18 season Bhatti caught the attention of the pundits. During that season he became the best spinner of the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy and notched up fourth position on the table with 49 wickets in nine matches, behind three pace bowlers. At the end of that first-class season, he was one of the 26 emerging players selected for the NCA emerging players’ training camp at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore.
Bhatti carried his good form into the subsequent season (2018/19) and became the best spinner for the second year running, with 49 wickets in eight matches. Only fast bowler Aizaz Cheema was ahead of him. Cheema topped the table with 59 wickets, but he also played two more games than Bhatti.
Bhatti’s hard work was rewarded when he got the selectors’ nod and went off for Australia in November 2019. Making his Test debut, wearing the white kit with a gold Pakistan star close to the heart and a green cap on the head, Bhatti couldn’t be happier. “I was excited when I saw my name in the Test squad. I want to perform in international cricket just like the way I have performed on the domestic circuit and make a name for myself at the international level,” he says.
Since Yasir Shah was the frontline spinner in the team during the tour, it was always unlikely that Bhatti would make it to the playing eleven. But it’s only a matter of time before his time comes. For the time being, he’s happy because the selectors have retained him in the Test squad.
The writer tweets @CaughtAtPoint
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 8th, 2020