Fringe Benefits: Aasif Karim November 26, 2014

'As soon as we got Lara, we were a different side'

Interview by Mohammad Isam
The former Kenya captain recalls Kenya's shock win over West Indies in 1996 and his spell that had Australia quivering in 2003

A tale for the grandchildren: Tariq Iqbal and Aasif Karim celebrate Brian Lara's wicket in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history © Associated Press

In terms of World Cup upsets, where would you rate Kenya's victory over West Indies in 1996?
It was our first major win in world cricket. West Indies were idols for many of us in Kenya. They had huge names in that squad itself - you had Michael Holding as a commentator and Andy Roberts as manager. It was phenomenal for us, and it became news all over the world. I mean, news on CNN was a big deal those days.

What was the talk the night before the West Indies game? Did you talk about Brian Lara?
We had team meetings but we arrived in Pune from Patna the evening before the game. We didn't even see the ground - no practice, nothing. We were playing West Indies, so we thought it would be nice to have some photographs for our memory. It would be good to play against them and hopefully one of us would get Brian Lara's wicket and we could tell our grandsons.

You were all out for 166. What did you discuss in the break?
I was injured before the game but I really wanted to play this match. Some of us were sitting with the physio during the break, smiling. We thought, how many overs would they need to score the runs? Twenty-five or 30 overs, someone said, 40 maybe. We thought that if it finishes early, we can quickly go back to the hotel, shower and do some sightseeing in Pune. That was how the conversation went at the lunch break.

Tariq Iqbal didn't keep well, but he caught Lara, and you were next to him when he did.
Tariq Iqbal was one of the senior cricketers in the side with me and Edward Tito. We were friends. He didn't just start keeping that day, he was a regular keeper. That day, even I was embarrassed to look at him. Balls were going through his legs. He couldn't hold anything. I quietly told him, "Just regroup", but I couldn't look at him. He was feeling very awkward, because he is a decent keeper. And to top it off, we were on television.

The Lara dismissal, I think he grabbed the ball, it just got stuck. After that, he was a different person, he took some amazing catches down the leg side. There was a huge transformation. As soon as we got Lara's wicket, we were a different side. I think Rajab Ali should be given huge credit for putting the early pressure and getting the first wicket of Lara.

"The night before the game, the management told us that West Indies had arranged a dinner on the night of the match. They were going to host us. It became very embarrassing for them"

You took the ninth wicket yourself.
We had their middle order in a very tight corner. Both Maurice [Odumbe] and myself bowled quite tight. He got three or four wickets in the match, so that put them under a lot of pressure. We bowled very well in tandem, and our bowling relied on the spinners.

What was the celebration like?
The night before the game, the management told us that West Indies had arranged a dinner on the night of the match. They were going to host us, to get to know one another. It became very embarrassing for them. Everything was set up, so we went to the dinner. We could see they were really hurting. They lost to a team they had never heard of. We were in ecstasy; we couldn't believe what had happened. I don't think any player slept that night.

It seemed like there was a bit of a hangover against Sri Lanka (though you bowled well).
It was a little bit of complacency from our side. Remember, Sri Lanka were just another team back then. It was not a big deal, playing against Sri Lanka. I think Maurice also got carried away with the media, with some remarks that were not called for - "Watch out, Sri Lanka, we are going to sort you out just like we sorted out West Indies." It was not necessary. I remember Arjuna [Ranatunga] telling me this later on when they came to Kenya for a tournament. He said, "Your captain's comments fired us up." In less than ten overs they had 80 or 90, and with the crowd, it was a new experience for us. We were playing against a team that was already on a high.

To get to the 1996 World Cup, you qualified through the 1994 ICC Trophy played at home.
Until 1981, Kenya was under East Africa - Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. We applied to the ICC in 1981 to go on our own. The first ICC Trophy for Kenya was in 1982. It was a novelty at the time. The performance was mediocre. The team was maturing in 1990, when we lost to Holland, only to be eliminated. In 1994, it was the first time three teams were to qualify for the World Cup. The Kenyan board lobbied and got [to host] the 1994 tournament, where everything seemed to be on our side - hosts, three teams to qualify, and we were building on a good team. We had players like Maurice Odumbe and Steve Tikolo. The Bangladesh match in the crucial second round, was one that all the players will remember to date. We made 295 and although they made a great start, we won. We lost the final, against UAE, but we had a great tournament.

The following year, we toured Bangladesh to get some exposure to subcontinental conditions and it was an eye-opener - the large crowds, the noise, the heat and the pitches. From there we went to South Africa, where we experienced day-night cricket for the first time, another step in our preparation for the 1996 World Cup.

"It was very special to get Ponting's wicket. He couldn't handle any delivery" © Getty Images

A journalist wrote that when there is talk of romance in the World Cup, it is hard to forget Aasif Karim - 8.2 overs, six maidens, seven runs and three wickets against Australia in the 2003 World Cup must have been the greatest highlight of your life?
It was my second-last international match. I came back after retiring after the 1999 World Cup because they [the Kenyan board] called me back for the 2003 World Cup. I think I must be the only player to have played no games between two World Cups. It was the top of the tops. Having club-cricket bowling figures against the world champions, and then getting the Man-of-the-Match award despite Brett Lee getting a hat-trick.

Australia were 105 for 2 chasing 175, so everyone was going through the motions. I thought, let me see what I can do. The second delivery I bowled to Ricky Ponting, I saw turn. It was a wonderful day, it was meant to be. It was something that people talk about to date. It was very special to get Ponting's wicket. He couldn't handle any delivery. I got him lbw with an arm ball.

You reached the semi-final but lost to India. What are your fondest memories of the 2003 World Cup?
When they called me in December 2002, there were some problems in the Kenyan team. It is not an easy team to handle. You have Asians, Indians and Africans. Among the Indians and Asians, you have Hindus and Muslims, and among the Africans, you have 42 different tribes. To mix the team, it is very unique. I retired after the 1999 World Cup because of all the politics. I knew there was going to be a huge problem because of leadership and the pressures of international cricket.

As soon as the 2003 World Cup started, everything sort of calmed down. We had a disastrous match against South Africa, but then we beat Canada and came back home to beat Sri Lanka. The crowd was tremendous, the government officials suddenly came in.

Next was Bangladesh, who were on shaky ground. And they always had the jitters against Kenya. We were great on-field rivals at the time.

After beating them at the Wanderers, we had a very tight match against India. We needed just one win in the Super Six. We beat Zimbabwe convincingly, probably for the first time in 23 years. We lost to India in the semi-final, which I thought made a lot of sense and we were only going to go that far. India deserved to play in the final.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

Comments have now been closed for this article