Known for his aggressive style of batting in the shorter formats, Asif Ali made his international debut in 2018 and has since then represented Pakistan on 43 occasions. The tragic death of his young daughter in 2019 seemed to have a devastating effect on him and his career but his form has picked up recently wherein he scored 398 runs in 7 games during the Pakistan Cup.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Asif spoke about his recent experience of playing in the T10 League, the dark times he endured after the death of his daughter, reasons for his lacklustre performances during the 2019 World Cup, the benefits of playing in leagues around the world and his thoughts on being selected for the T20I series against South Africa.
By Amir Husain (10th February, 2021)
PakPassion.net: This was your first experience of playing in the T10 League, what’s your opinion about this form of cricket?
Asif Ali: Whilst this was my first experience of playing in the T10 League, I had previously watched this tournament on television and was convinced that this type of short format would suit my game perfectly. So, I was very excited about playing in the T10 League once I was given the chance by the Qalandars.
PakPassion.net: Is the T10 league the future of cricket?
Asif Ali: I believe that like all other leagues which are being played around the world, the T10 League is doing a great job by promoting local talent and that alone makes this tournament very special. The fact that many UAE players have been involved in this league is excellent news for the promotion of cricket in the country and I gave any advice I could to my UAE teammates as I feel that it was my duty to do that. All in all, the tournament has gone from strength to strength each year since its inception and I am sure it will continue to do so in future.
PakPassion.net: How impressed were you with the Qalandars side that you represented at the T10 League?
Asif Ali: The management at Qalandars are people I am very familiar with and the way they took care of us in this tournament was nothing short of fantastic.
PakPassion.net: How hard was it to continue playing cricket after the loss of your daughter?
Asif Ali: Those were very tough times for me and my family. I try not to think too much about it and have tried my best to move on from that tragedy. Looking back, I know that my late daughter was like a good luck charm for me because I feel that my career took off the day she was born. It was her presence that allowed me to make a name for myself in world cricket but when she passed away, I was a lost soul. I even got to play in the 2019 World Cup a month after her passing away, based upon my performance in the ODI series against England, but as anyone would have seen, I was just going through the motions. My feelings then were that my life and career was going to end with my daughter’s death. But thanks to the Almighty’s blessings, since the arrival of my son in this world in December of last year, things have looked up for me once again. My performances in the Pakistan Cup which included scores of 66, 76, 88 and 127 were very fulfilling for me and it seems that the birth of my son who has also brought me good luck.
PakPassion.net: Did being moved around the batting order for Pakistan hinder your progress?
Asif Ali: No that isn’t true at all as I have always considered it an honour to have played for Pakistan. It didn’t matter at what position I batted as my only job was to serve my country. Never did it cross my mind to question or worry about my position in the batting order and my only concern was to do the best for my team. In fact, I cannot think of any player who would have a complaint like that when playing for his country. All decisions about batting positions are not just made at the drop of a hat but are clearly communicated to the player before the game so ample time is given for the player to plan his innings in advance. In my case, I knew I would bat in the last few overs and I would practice and prepare myself mentally according to that situation. One must also know that there is no such thing as a permanent place in any team, and you can be excluded if you do not perform well. Obviously, there is pressure when you make a comeback after a period of time and that is what happened in my case too. When I did make my comeback during the trip to England before the 2019 World Cup, I knew very well that I would be out of the side if I did not do well and unfortunately, that is what happened as my scores during the tournament weren’t that great. But since then, I have worked hard and am grateful to have been offered a chance for another comeback in the T20I series against South Africa.
PakPassion.net: Was the fact that there was pressure on you to perform in the role of a finisher that possibly caused you to not perform as well as you could have?
Asif Ali: Look there will always be pressure on you when you play cricket at any level. You are playing the wrong game if you find it difficult to handle pressure, regardless of whether you are batsman or a bowler. To be honest, I was quite pleased and honoured when the responsibility of being a middle-order batsman who could take the innings to a close was placed on me. When you are playing as an opener, all that is expected of you is to put up a good opening stand but when you are a middle-order batsman, the expectation is that you will finish the innings or take the team to a win in a run-chase.
So, in my case, instead of putting pressure on myself, I was happy that the Pakistan team was placing their trust in me to deliver. Of course, people will say things about you, but I don’t bother with what others think about me. And if I do read something about myself which is negative, I use that as motivation for myself to improve and perform better when I get the chance to play for my country.
PakPassion.net: There was a feeling that you should have continued playing for Northern in the Pakistan Cup instead of participating in the T10 League.
Asif Ali: I played 7 matches in the Pakistan Cup this year and scored 398 runs which consisted of one century and three fifties, so I did prove myself in that tournament. I was offered an opportunity to play in a well-known and good standard tournament which attracts top quality players from around the world. I felt that I could learn a lot from playing alongside some top names and also get financial rewards which was a good outcome for me. My domestic side, Northern, and the PCB had no objections to my going over to play in this tournament, so this is something which was allowed and not something I did without permission.
PakPassion.net: What would you put down as the reason behind your less than satisfactory performances for Pakistan in the past?
Asif Ali: My daughter’s illness played a huge role in how I performed. I cannot explain in words how I got through the period where my daughter was ill and whilst at the same time, I was also part of the Pakistan side. I recall that in those days, I would stay awake all night thinking about my daughter’s health. But I am also thankful to the Almighty that he relieved her pain as I like any other parent could not bear to see her in that condition.
PakPassion.net: You must have been saddened by the death of the Late Dean Jones who supported you a lot during your association with him at Islamabad United?
Asif Ali: It was shocking for me to hear about his passing away as he and I used to communicate a lot and he would give me advice at all times. I remember that he would chat with me before I left to play in any tournament outside Pakistan. He would always wish me luck and I still have his messages on my phone which I look at for inspiration. I was playing at the CPL in 2020 when he messaged me a few days before his death.
He always wished me well and even though he had moved to Karachi Kings, he continued to look after me. During our association at Islamabad United, he told me about aspects of cricket which I had never thought about and which are beneficial to me to this day. He was a great human being and always supported me. It was the confidence that he had in me which really helped me become a better player for which I will always be grateful to Deano.
PakPassion.net: What was the reason behind your good form at Northern during the 2020/21 domestic season?
Asif Ali: I have put in a lot of work on my game in recent times, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown period where I was at home. I worked on my shot selection as before I could mostly score in front of the wicket or on the offside. The problem I had was that I was limited in my scoring areas but thankfully I have now worked on this and applied it not only in the National T20 and the Pakistan Cup but also during the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy as well. In fact, during the 4-Day games, I made sure I played my innings for as long as I could to practice my shot selection.
I also did not go to the Lanka Premier League as I wanted to concentrate on making sure that my shot selection improved in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. I saw a lot of improvement in my game this season as compared to about 4 years ago when I last played a full season of 4-Day cricket, so it seems that my hard work on my batting as well as on my fitness has paid off. The most important thing is that a player needs to feel improvement in his game, and I have felt that this year and I am definitely a better batsman than before.
PakPassion.net: How big a loss is it for Northern to lose Mohammad Wasim as Head Coach?
Asif Ali: It’s definitely been a huge loss for us as he had made a lot of effort in making Northern a well-oiled unit. Whenever a Head Coach or a leader of a side is changed mid-season then the new person will bring in his own style of management and the players don’t necessarily take too well to this change and there can be issues as all concerned get used to each other. In my case, I had been playing under Mohammad Wasim for about 2 years and he knew exactly how to get the best out of me, and I also knew about his nature and style of coaching. I also noticed that the players were a little uncomfortable with the changes especially during mid-season, but I suppose change is always difficult to adjust to and this will all settle down in time.
PakPassion.net: How does playing in different leagues around the world help in the development of any cricketer?
Asif Ali: It’s important for any cricketer to get a good idea of playing in different conditions around the world and these leagues are a great way to gain experience. In my case, I have played for 2 years in the Mzansi Super League in South Africa where I learnt a lot about the types of surfaces that they have there. So, playing in different parts of the world teaches you a lot about your game and shows you where you lack skills and what you need to do to improve.
After having experienced playing in leagues around the world, you gain a lot of confidence about your own abilities. You also get a chance to meet some of the world’s top players and learn from their experiences as well which does help your game too. From what I hear of the experience of players participating in County Cricket, it seems that being an overseas professional puts a lot of pressure on you and if you can do well there, then it automatically makes you a better player and helps you in your career.
PakPassion.net: How do you feel about your return to the Pakistan squad for the T20I series against South Africa?
Asif Ali: I was very much looking forward to this opportunity because I was really focussed during the domestic season towards making a comeback to the national side. I declined the chance to play in the Lanka Premier League as I wanted to put in the effort at home and then see how things panned out for me. Whilst I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to in the 4-Day games, I was very pleased with my performances during the National T20 Cup and Pakistan Cup and it seems my efforts have been recognized for which I am very thankful.