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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

Seamer-turned-spinner Karamat Ali guides Pakistan to U19 Asia Cup final

Pakistan's most promising leg-spinner takes five Afghanistan wickets in the first semi-finals at Sharjah, reports Paul Radley.
Pakistan’s Karamat Ali dismissed five Afghanistan batsmen in Sharjah on Thursday. He now has 16 wickets in the tournament. Satish Kumar / The National
Pakistan’s Karamat Ali dismissed five Afghanistan batsmen in Sharjah on Thursday. He now has 16 wickets in the tournament. Satish Kumar / The National

SHARJAH // Pakistan might have stumbled on a future international leg-spinner of substance after he was told to give up fast-bowling because he was too short.

At approximately 1.68 metres, Karamat Ali is hardly the most vertically challenged player ever to pick up a cricket ball, but he is no Mohammad Irfan, either.

He wanted to become a pace bowler when he first took up the sport but was quickly advised by those in the know to try something else on account of his lack of inches.

It was sage advice, on this evidence. Having swapped to wrist-spin, the 17-year-old resident of Lahore marked himself as a slow-bowler of rare potential by taking 16 wickets in four matches so far in the Under 19 Asia Cup.

Thursday’s five-wicket haul against Afghanistan, his second five-for of the week, included a treble, and sent Pakistan into Saturday’s final against India.

“None of my family played cricket, but my parents were very keen for me to do well and encouraged me a lot,” Karamat said.

“Earlier, I was a fast bowler, but I was guided by my club coaches to go and bowl leg-breaks.”

That he happened on this skill after having been counselled off pace-bowling stunned Ali Zia, the Pakistan U19 team manager.

“It seems amazing to me, because leg-spin is one of those arts you do naturally; it can’t be taught,” Zia said. “He must have a good mentality to bowl leg-spin other than in the nets. I think it was good advice by whoever it was who told him to start bowling leg-breaks.”

Admittedly, of Karamat’s five wickets in the two-wicket victory over the Afghans, three were caught on the boundary rope.

However, he had more than earned those morsels of luck, given the amount of times he had gone past either the inside or outside edge over the course of the innings.

The hat-trick ball encapsulated his excellence, bewitching Sayed Shirzad with a perfectly pitched googly to the extent the Afghan batsman did not even realise he had been bowled.

Karamat’s success here belies the fact he had not featured in the national team’s selection plans at the start of last year, missing a competitive trip to England. He forced his way into the tour party to the UAE by weight of wickets in the national U19 competition, and has become the most-valuable member of the bowling attack since arriving here.

“I wasn’t selected in the tour to England, but I have worked very hard to get where I am,” he said.

“I want our team to do well, and I want to help my team win this Asia Cup. After that, we want to go on and play well here in the World Cup for Pakistan U19.

“Then my objective is eventually is to go and play for the senior team. Whenever I play for Pakistan, I want to win matches for my country.”

His side are managing to do that. The win over Afghanistan meant they are unbeaten in 18 games at this level.

How they are maintaining that record sometimes feels like a mystery, though.

For the second time in three days, they reached an apparently unassailable position, only to stumble across the winning line with just two wickets and a handful of deliveries to spare.

Sami Aslam, their captain, was again the leading light with the bat, making 75, but his side only just survived after losing four wickets for 14 runs near the end.

pradley@thenational.ae