Asif Ali thanks his believers as he comes good in green again
Faith shown by Islamabad pays off in Pakistan's hour of need
Asif Ali has faced nineteen balls in the 2021 T20 World Cup, and has hit seven of them for six. Against New Zealand on Tuesday night, he made 27 not out off 12 balls to take Pakistan over the line and maintain their 100 percent record after the 10-wicket win over India; against Afghanistan on Friday, he hit an unbeaten 25 off seven to make it three wins out of three.
His response? Aur koi hukam Pakistan? "Anything else you need, Pakistan? Thank you Islamabad United and all those who kept their faith in me during the difficult times."
Aur koi hukam Pakistan? Shukriya @isbunited aur woh sub log jinho ne mere per belief rakha mere mushkil waqt mai. #PakistanZindabad— Asif Ali (@AasifAli2018) October 29, 2021
It is no surprise that Asif's first instinct was to thank his PSL franchise. He has split opinion in Pakistan for a number of years, dominating the six-hitting charts for Islamabad ever since the PSL's inception but struggling to translate that to international level. His supporters said he had not been given enough rope, while his critics insisted he should have been cut off long ago.
But in the fervour of the 19th over of a frantic game in a frenzied atmosphere, Asif came good in green for the second time in four days. He had told Shoaib Malik not to worry about leaving him work to do and had sent Shadab Khan back in order to stay on strike for the 19th over: he had been eyeing up the short leg-side boundary, and backed himself to take down Karim Janat, the inexperienced medium-pacer.
Sitting deep in his crease anticipating a yorker, Asif pounded the first ball back over Janat's head, heaved a back-of-a-length ball over midwicket, and thumped two more slot balls over wide long-off to seal the win. Never mind that he failed to lay bat on two successful wide yorkers - Asif's four sixes had won the game with an over to spare.
"I don't notice criticism," Asif insisted in his post-match press conference. "I don't follow social media at all, I'm very far away from it. My role was such that I sometimes came into the team and sometimes was dropped. Pakistan needed me and called for me. I've played leagues around the world and was playing domestic cricket too, so I was in touch with my game. I'm only in the team because I was performing, after all.
"The last series I played [in South Africa and Zimbabwe], I played in the middle order at No. 6. It's tricky in that position. The stats guys only see that I scored 10 runs in three innings, but they don't see if you played only three or four balls of the final over. They only pull out the stat, rather than understanding the intricacies of middle-order batting.
"[Tonight] the boundary on the on-side was smaller from the end in that 19th over. But they bowled wide on the off side and that's where I ended up hitting sixes at the bigger boundary. That wasn't exactly the plan, but I just hit the balls I got. I kept telling Shoaib Malik we'd target this end, but unfortunately he ended up getting out. Thankfully, we ended up winning the match."
Asif also revealed that a more targeted approach to his training sessions had allowed him more practice in death-overs situations, giving credit to Pakistan's management for their role in his success.
"My last series didn't go well," he said. "I've worked very hard and now you can see the results. I've practised a lot for this finisher role.
"Earlier, I just used to go to the nets and face the bowlers. I spoke to the coaches and asked them to set me up for practice as if I were batting in the final five or six overs. The management has helped me out a lot, and I'm very happy now and you can see the results.
"I want to thank Misbah[-ul-Haq] - who I started my career alongside in Faisalabad and later at SNGPL. Then I played under him when he became coach of Pakistan. He worked very hard with me and I'll always be grateful to him. All my coaches have worked with me and I'm thankful to them."
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98