Usama Mir was once regarded as the future of leg-spin in Pakistan, but a career-threatening back injury in 2016 drastically setback his progress. This year he was playing for Doncaster Town in the UK, before leaving for Pakistan to play in the inaugural edition of the Kashmir Premier League (KPL) for the Muzaffarabad Tigers franchise.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, he spoke about what he gained from playing Club Cricket in the UK this season, details of the injury that threatened to derail his career, why he has not been able to establish himself in the red-ball format and his hopes that good performances in the KPL could help him regain a place in a PSL side, which in turn could help him realise his ultimate goal of playing for Pakistan.
By Saj Sadiq (7th August, 2021)
PakPassion.net: Tell us about what you expected to gain by playing club cricket in the UK this season?
Usama Mir: I came over to the UK this summer to play for Doncaster Town in the Yorkshire Cricket Southern Premier League and I feel that I learnt a lot from this experience. I feel that my batting improved during this stint and there was a marked improvement in my bowling temperament as well. My plan was to ensure that all weaknesses in my game that were hampering my progress would be taken care of during my time in the UK. For example, I was having trouble bowling googlies so I practiced to fix this issue and was able to implement those changes in game situations whilst in the UK. And I am glad that things did work out for me there as when I ended my stint, I was the highest wicket-taker with 50 wickets to my name out of which a high percentage of dismissals were based on my wrong'uns. I also played in other local leagues as well in Sunday tournaments where I came across some high-quality county players which has increased my confidence and God Willing, I will continue with that success here in Pakistan during the KPL.
PakPassion.net: Was your plan to stay for the whole season in the UK?
Usama Mir: Yes, it was, but I had to cut my stint short due to my commitments with the KPL. However, the main aim was to work on my temperament and to figure out the best area to consistently bowl in so that I could get the maximum advantage. I am glad that I did spend time in the UK and worked on all these improvements, but I am also happy to be back in Pakistan and playing the KPL where I can hopefully apply all these changes.
PakPassion.net: There was a time when you were considered as the next big thing in Pakistan cricket - what went wrong?
Usama Mir: I am also disappointed by this, but it was a career-threatening injury which caused damaged to my future plans. The compression of the sciatic nerve caused me to be bed-ridden for seven months and I underwent major rehab at the National Cricket Academy, but my condition didn't improve, and it was only after the intervention of Dr Zafar Iqbal in the UK that helped me to get to a point where I could stand up. However, for nearly 2 years after sustaining that injury my left leg was almost useless and I was still walking around with a limp and people wondered what had gone wrong, yet I kept on playing. But that is history as now, I feel that I am physically and mentally fit and God Willing I will put in my best effort to become the next big thing for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: Was playing cricket through the course of this injury not a dangerous option?
Usama Mir: Most back injuries to bowlers usually involve stress fractures but in my case it was the compression of the sciatic nerve which wasn’t that easy to diagnose. Initially, no one could figure out the issue and it was only during the time when I was praying whilst at Umrah that I felt the pain in a specific place, and once the MRI was done, they were able to pinpoint the problem in my L4 and L5 vertebrae. Once again, I am thankful to Dr Zafar Iqbal for his help in 2016 who arranged for my surgery after I had almost given up hope of ever recovering as many doctors and physiotherapists could not ascertain the reason for my pain. In fact, within 2 months of my surgery, I was able to participate in the PSL as if nothing had happened to me.
PakPassion.net: What’s the reason behind you not playing any List A games since 2018?
Usama Mir: I feel it was simply a case of misfortune as when I joined the Northern side for the 2019/20 season, they had a total of six very accomplished spinners in their first and 2nd XI sides. So, we had the likes of Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz and Imad Wasim in the first XI whilst Nauman Ali, Raza Hasan and I were part of the second XI. None of these spinners were likely to give up their place in the side which was different to other teams where there was some shuffling of combinations happening within the Twenty20 and One-Day sides. My chances of playing were very slim and that’s what happened that year. This year, my father fell ill, and I had to spend some time with my family and due to that I was side-lined, even though I was willing to play in One-Day games.
PakPassion.net: You also missed out on PSL 6 which must have been a little disheartening?
Usama Mir: PSL is Pakistan’s premier T20 tournament and recognized the world over as a top-quality league and the fact was that I didn’t have many games or performances under my belt to merit selection in any franchise tournament. I did not play enough cricket or have any performances of note that would have highlighted me as a good selection for PSL 6. To me this was the reason for being ignored from this year’s PSL. But all that is in the past. Now I am totally focussed on performing in the KPL to help me make a proper comeback in domestic cricket.
PakPassion.net: At 25 years of age, I guess it’s now time to start performing?
Usama Mir: I am well aware of how time is moving on, and I have made plans to work towards the goal of playing as an all-rounder for Pakistan in the future. In this regard, I have been working on improving my power-hitting as I feel that this is the kind of skill that the national team needs. I am working hard on my hitting ability to make sure I improve on that aspect of my game and be able to play shots all around the ground. Similarly, I am looking to get rid of all weaknesses in my bowling, especially in the Twenty20 format. In the One-Day format, I am looking to improve my length by watching closely all the top spin bowlers, especially the likes of Rashid Khan and Imran Tahir from whom I can learn about the sorts of lengths they hit against good players and how they adjust their bowling based upon different conditions. I will look to implement all I have learnt for Muzaffarabad Tigers in the KPL, and people will hopefully see a different and mature Usama Mir playing in front of them.
PakPassion.net: Have you recently been considered for a training stint at the NHPC by the PCB?
Usama Mir: Whilst it would have been a good experience for me, I have not been asked to come and train at the NPHC. There was some talk of playing in County Cricket and Leicestershire Head Coach Paul Nixon wanted to see me play but this did not happen due to my commitments at the KPL.
PakPassion.net: Do you draw inspiration from the way Usman Qadir has turned around his career to become a member of the Pakistan squad?
Usama Mir: Of course, his example is a great one and shows the value of hard work and believing in oneself, but I also know that my character is one that never accepts defeat. Even when I was bed-ridden due to injury, I never considered giving up on my career which many would have done when faced with such adversity in life. I am continuing to work hard and will improve myself and also prove to others what I am capable of. Usman Qadir left Pakistan for Australia because he could not find a place in the national side but then came back, worked hard and is now a part of the national side which is an amazing and inspirational story for all of us. My plan is to follow his example and put in performances that will impress the selectors and will pave the way for a bright future for me as a Pakistan player.
PakPassion.net: To many of your critics, it appears that you are simply a white-ball specialist but are you also looking to make a name for yourself in First-class cricket as well?
Usama Mir: That is a correct observation but, in my defence, let me say that I have done my utmost to perform in red-ball cricket. However, I have really struggled in this format and the reasons for that could be that captains I have played under have not utilized me and given me the kind of confidence a player needs to perform better. So, if one looks at my stint with SSGC in 2018/19 season, I was benched for 4 games then brought in for the next game, and then was benched again which was not consistent game time for me to improve in this format. Even when I was given a chance to play, I was just used for 4-5 overs in an innings. And God Forbid, if one or two balls went for runs which is something any leg-spinner like Shane Warne could have done as well, the captain would take me off and that would really shake my confidence in my own abilities. Of course, that also took away the interest and motivation in this format for me as I would hardly be playing 1-2 games in a season, and I would wonder what to do with my career in this case. No matter how much hard work you have done in the nets or in practice, you will only get the confidence to bowl well when that support comes from your captain, coach and teammates which wasn’t happening for me.
PakPassion.net: It seems you are giving a lot of importance to playing at the KPL?
Usama Mir: Given how I have been looking for an opportunity to play in top-level cricket, the KPL is a perfect chance for me to showcase my skills to the world. I am very happy to be part of this tournament which has an international feel to it, and I will be trying my best to prove my detractors wrong and to show everyone that I am still one of the best leg-spinners around. The hard work I have done and the bowling plans I have made ahead of this tournament will soon be visible to all who are watching this tournament and they will all, hopefully, be impressed by my performances at the KPL.
PakPassion.net: What does the future hold for you?
Usama Mir: I feel that my future in Pakistan cricket will improve drastically if I can perform well in 1-2 tournaments like the KPL and PSL. If I can get these opportunities and avail those chances to show my good performances by taking wickets and improve my economy rate and most importantly, to single-handedly become a match-winner for my teams with some good all-round displays then it will be mission accomplished for me. Hopefully, once I do well and people start talking about me and praising my game, then better days will follow for me. It’s a step-by-step process and at the moment, my current focus is on the KPL where I intend to bowl at my best so that I am noticed by all and am then picked again for the upcoming edition of the PSL. If I can then do well at the PSL, then that will increase my chances of being included in the national side, which is my ultimate goal. I’ve lost a lot of time, but I feel my best days are to come.