Returning from a possible career-threatening injury, 21-year-old leg-spinner Usama Mir impressed all with his fine performances in the 2017 edition of the Pakistan Super League, where he picked 12 wickets for Karachi Kings and played an important role in some of the closest games of the tournament. Later, he also impressed as the highest-wicket taker with 13 wickets in the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Emerging Teams Cup.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Usama Mir spoke about the recovery from his injury, the experience of playing in the PSL, the inspirational role that Shoaib Malik has played in his career development, Mushtaq Ahmed's contribution in the promotion of leg-spin bowling in Pakistan cricket and his own aspirations for a place in the Pakistan A and senior Pakistan teams in the future.
By Saj Sadiq (13th May, 2017)
PakPassion.net : You suffered a serious back injury last year; how did that happen and how was that mended?
Usama Mir : The injury occurred during the first edition of the Pakistan Super League. I caught Andre Russell but as I took the catch my foot twisted and I felt some stress in my back. Later that evening my back felt very stiff and after consulting with the physio he strapped my back and I carried on playing in that tournament. However the pain continued and I really felt it whilst offering prayers and I was struggling to bend properly. Then I returned to Pakistan and nobody could work out what was wrong with me. Some people were saying it was a hamstring injury, others were saying it's something else. I then played in the Pakistan Cup and then went on tour with Pakistan A but the pain in my back continued. Subsequently, I saw a surgeon who suggested fourteen days rest, which actually made the pain worse. I then continued my rehabilitation in various ways in Pakistan but without the pain easing. Eventually I went to England and met Dr. Zafar Iqbal who works for Crystal Palace Football Club. He was brilliant and knew exactly what the issue was. He worked very hard with me and helped the injury to improve. He gave me a training plan and then I returned to Pakistan feeling a lot better before the 2017 edition of the PSL.
PakPassion.net : Would you say that you are now 100% fit and fully recovered from the back injury?
Usama Mir : The back injury is fine but that particular injury meant that other areas of my body also suffered. I've had some problems with my left calf and also my glutes, but I'm working hard on these issues and the condition is improving. I wasn't completely fit for this year's PSL either but I was still happy with my performance in that tournament and in Bangladesh at the Emerging Teams Cup. I'm in Lahore at the National Cricket Academy at the moment, working hard on my fitness with a view to getting 100% fit and much stronger.
PakPassion.net : Have these injuries meant that you have had to change your bowling action to one that is easier on your body?
Usama Mir : No, I've not had to change my action. This type of injury is actually very common amongst the Pakistani players and I've worked with my coaches in analysing my bowling action and we think that there aren't any changes required. There was a weakness there in the core of my body and my disc had slipped but now I am feeling a lot stronger and the core of my body is much healthier and not as brittle as it was previously. Given the work I have put in, I am confident that this problem will not happen again.
PakPassion.net : You were one of the young stars of the Pakistan Super League this year but it appears that you had to endure some pain to play in the tournament?
Usama Mir : I was very pleased with my performance at the PSL. I went into this tournament in high spirits and full of confidence as I had just played against the touring Malaysia team in January 2017. However the PSL nearly didn't happen for me as I hurt a finger on my bowling hand during a match against Malaysia. Unfortunately, the X-rays revealed a fracture and the nail came right off. I had to miss a couple of matches in that series as I was in a lot of pain. I did come back in that series and bowled with a fractured finger. I didn't want to miss any more cricket so despite having a finger problem and a bad back, I just said to myself to endure the pain and get on with it.
PakPassion.net : That last over at the PSL against Peshawar Zalmi was heart in the mouth stuff, wasn't it?
Usama Mir : It was a high-pressure moment and I learnt so much just from that one over. Shahid Afridi smashed me for a six from a very ordinary ball but then I told myself not to worry and to not lose heart and keep calm. I told myself to bowl my stock delivery, the leg-spinner, and not to try to be too fancy and clever. Shoaib Malik came up to me and said just concentrate on the basics and stick to what you are best at bowling and that worked for me.
PakPassion.net : You've come through the ranks at Sialkot and also played for Karachi Kings with Shoaib Malik. How much of an influence has he been on your career?
Usama Mir : He has been a blessing for me. He has been my inspiration. He is the main reason I started playing cricket and the guy who I used to go and watch playing when I was younger. He's fantastic at guiding cricketers irrespective of how experienced or young you are, he is there to help. He has helped so many players into First-class cricket by supporting them and helping them get noticed by First-class teams. I am honoured and privileged to have him around to guide and help me. I still cannot believe that I am playing alongside a player who was and still is my hero.
PakPassion.net : Sialkot is at the forefront of producing cricketing talent in Pakistan. Why is that and what's the secret?
Usama Mir : Sialkot has a proud sporting heritage in terms of sports equipment and producing great sportsmen. In Sialkot, when young children start to walk they are usually given a cricket bat or ball as their first toy and that's how it begins. Because sporting goods are so easily available, the sporting culture runs deep and children are very sporty in that city. Unfortunately, at the moment the Sialkot Twenty20 team is not playing at the highest level or more talents would have been unearthed. There are many talented cricketers in Sialkot who have yet to be seen at the highest level and I guarantee you that when they get their chance, they will show everyone just how good they are.
PakPassion.net : You were part of the ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup tournament in Bangladesh where Pakistan lost in the final. Were you satisfied with your performances in that tournament?
Usama Mir : It went well for me. It was another step on the road back from injury. I took 7 wickets against Hong Kong and I was the highest wicket-taker with 13 wickets in the tournament which was a big achievement for me. It was a good experience for me and it was my first tour with a Pakistan team at a more senior level. I hope it's the first of many tournaments for Pakistan for me.
PakPassion.net : You, Shadab Khan, Shahzaib Ahmed and Mohammad Irfan are just some of the young leg-spinners doing well. The art of leg-spin really is flourishing at the moment in Pakistan, isn't it?
Usama Mir : Yes, there's a lot of talent in Pakistan as far as leg-spin is concerned. The credit should go to Mushtaq Ahmed who has done tremendous work with the current crop of leg-spinners. Mushtaq's guidance has been very crucial for the leg-spinners in Pakistan and his efforts should be commended. He has provided us with some great tips and guidance and given us a lot more awareness of leg-spin bowling. He regularly helps us get smarter and more streetwise when it comes to bowling leg-spin. Also if you look at the example of Yasir Shah, Mushtaq Ahmed has worked wonders with him. Yes, Yasir has worked very hard, but Mushtaq's efforts cannot be ignored. One of the most important aspects of the work Mushtaq does is that he makes the bowling action of leg-spinners repeatable meaning that there are very few loose deliveries. Mushtaq is always looking very closely at our bowling actions and analysing them carefully. He will also tweak the actions, if needed, to ensure that our actions will work in all formats of the game.
PakPassion.net : There's a lot of competition for places when it comes to the role of a leg-spinner in the Pakistan team. Are you up for this challenge?
Usama Mir : To be honest, I don't see the other leg-spinners as competition. I just focus on my own game and what I can work on and improve upon. I will give my 110% effort and that's the best I can do. I don't think of who is ahead of me or who is behind me when it comes to performances and just want to concentrate on my own performance and my ability. I just want to show my credentials as a bowler and ensure that I can perform at the highest levels of cricket. I just want to satisfy my belief that I can play at the top levels of cricket.
PakPassion.net : The modern day game requires players to be strong in all facets of the game. Is it fair to say you have work to do regarding your batting and fielding?
Usama Mir : I believe I am an all-rounder and not just a bowler. I'm working very hard on my batting. Unfortunately my name never came up in the all-rounders camp but nonetheless I class myself as an all-rounder and have scored plenty of runs in domestic cricket and junior cricket. In practice I am giving as much time to my batting as I am to my bowling. The earlier injuries had hampered my fielding a little but I feel that I am now getting back on track.
PakPassion.net : Now that you are back after your injury problems, you must surely have one eye on a call-up for Pakistan A and then the Pakistan senior team?
Usama Mir : These past few months I've been working very hard at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore, where I have been working on regaining my fitness levels. It's all about hard work and putting in the hard yards for me. I have in the past played when not 100% fit and that was not easy. I'm fitter, stronger and improving fast. Going forward I want to be injury-free and play a full season of domestic cricket and perform well in all formats. All I can do is concentrate on working hard, performing well and the rest is up to the selectors in terms of whether they select me for Pakistan A or any other team. Every cricketer dreams of playing for his country and in that regard, I am no different.