Pakistan off-spinner makes his mark on debut as Australia trail by 325 runs heading into Day 4
Bilal Asif electrifies in Dubai as Pakistan claim advantage over Australia on Day 3
Ten years ago, Bilal Asif moved Kuwait to work as an electrician. A decade later, he was back in the Gulf, starting out on a rather different work assignment in Dubai.
Having been handed a debut in Test cricket aged 33 years and 13 days, the lanky off-spinner summarily tore through Australia’s batting line-up. He took 6-36, the third-best return ever by a Pakistani on Test debut, as Australia wilted.
The tourists had looked to be coping well with life in the UAE, as their openers Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch put on 142 for the first wicket.
Then, after Finch drilled a drive off Mohammed Abbas to Asad Shafiq at silly mid-off, the away side proceeded to lose all 10 wickets for 60.
Abbas, as has become his norm, was sparkling during the rout, but Asif was unquestionably the star.
Once he had started, with Shaun Marsh becoming his first victim, he appeared to be in a rush to leave an indelible mark on the game.
And well he might have been. He must be keen to make up for lost time, given he has started relatively late in the Test game, having suffered a succession of near misses.
He was on the brink of a debut three years ago, when England toured, only to miss out when Yasir Shah passed a fitness Test. He remained on the fringes of the squad, before disappearing from view – until now.
Not long before that, he had apparently given up on cricket altogether, ditching the domestic game in Pakistan for a job in Kuwait instead.
He stayed there for two years before returning to give cricket another go, debuting in first-class cricket aged 26, after encouragement from fellow Sialkot-born Pakistan international Shoaib Malik.
How the late developer has bloomed. His six-wicket haul included the wickets of two of Australia’s own debutants – Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne – for ducks in the same over.
“Being a professional cricketer, you have to be tough mentally,” Asif said.
“I always kept working hard. I didn’t think whether I would get a chance or not. It’s with Allah as to when you will get your chance, and how you can grab that by performing.
“What I could do what to work hard on my game. And that’s what I was doing.”
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Finch said that Australia’s collapse against Asif was not the result of insufficient preparation.
“There was a lot of videos that we watched, did a lot of research, but watching on a computer screen is obviously very different to being out of a Test-match environment facing him," Finch said.
“The bounce Bilal was getting with the old ball was extraordinary. He bowled quality, and we are going to have to come up with some really good plans in the second innings.
“He is very tall, gets over the top, puts a lot of revs on the ball, which was a challenge to start with.”
Australia’s collapse left them 280 behind on first innings. Despite the substantial lead, Pakistan opted to bat on, rather than enforce the follow on.
They, too, struggled on the wearing wicket at Dubai International Stadium, and by the close of Day 3 were 45-3, a lead of 325.
“To have them three down was really positive,” Finch said. “It would have been easy to let the game drift, and have them none for 60 after 17 overs, then the game is gone.
“The way we fought and put a little dent in Pakistan gives us some hope going into the last two days.
“If we can get ourselves in a position to win the Test on Day 5, we would love that. If not, it is about grinding and grinding, and doing our best.”