Usama Mir: from a tiny garage to the big arena

Usama Mir reflects on his early days in cricket, his battles with injury, and the lessons he has picked up from being with world-class players at the PSL

Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq
Usama Mir gets a pep talk from Kumar Sangakkara, Karachi Kings v Peshawar Zalmi, Pakistan Super League, Sharjah, February19, 2017

Growing up, Usama Mir had to balance his cricket with his studies  •  PSL

The very first toys for a one-year-old boy in Pakistan are usually a plastic bat and a sponge ball. However, parents do not encourage their kids to grow up with cricket as their only career option. Usama Mir's story is similar - it started with his father following him to the ground to scold him and drag him home.
He failed in his first cricket trial in 2009, in a programme to hunt for young talent in the country. However, he was spotted by selector Zahid Fazal, a former Test cricketer who played nine Tests between 1990 and 1995, who referred him to the Amir Waseem Cricket Academy for basic development. A year later he was selected to play for Sialkot's Under-19 team. But playing cricket wasn't a straightforward business for him, as he had to keep up with his studies too.
An able student, he passed his matriculation with distinction. He wanted to pursue science after that but soon realised that he couldn't study full-time. He switched to part-time studies and completed a course in commerce. The middle one among three siblings, Usama had underachieved until he was 18, constantly consumed in finding a balance between cricket and academics.
"I started playing cricket on the terrace and in the streets with my elder brother in the scorching heat of June-July," Mir told ESPNcricinfo. "In the night, we used to play in our garage, which was not big enough for fast bowling. We would pick different teams to compete and I always picked Australia and followed Shane Warne. My brother actually taught me wrist spin but wasn't himself sure how I was spinning the ball that much.
"I started to enjoy legspin and went on with it. In the streets, I never allowed anyone to score more than two runs in an over. My ball spun sharply to deceive any batsman and I was unplayable. I started to develop control playing in the limited space of the garage, where there was no question of a follow through. All I could do was roll my arms hard to spin the ball away from my brothers front foot, and it was very satisfying to deceive him. It's generally hard to spin the tennis ball with tape on but it worked well for me and when I picked up the cricket ball, it was relatively easy."
"We used to play in our garage, which was not big enough for fast bowling. We would pick different teams to compete and I always picked Australia and followed Shane Warne."
He broke into Khan Research Laboratories' T20 team for the Ramadan Cup in 2013, before making a first-class debut for them the following year. But the impression was made playing for his local team, Sialkot Stallions - a team that have dominated the national circuit with six titles - in the shorter format. In 2015, he claimed 11 wickets at 9.54 in the Super Eight Twenty20 Cup under the leadership of Shoaib Malik. He was then picked by Karachi Kings in the inaugural edition of the PSL and retained for the second season. He has since played 29 T20s, picking up 33 wickets at 21.03, achieving a career-high this season, when he put a stop to Shahid Afridi's heroics to seal a narrow win, before taking 3 for 24 as Karachi knocked defending champions Islamabad United out in the playoff to take a step toward the final.
Although his performances in the PSL have been getting attention, his first-class career has been halted, mainly because of a back injury. He hasn't played a first-class game since 2015.
"My injury really let me down and it was the worst part throughout my journey so far," he said. "In 2016, my name was going around in the domestic circuit. I was about to tour England with the Pakistan A team when I went down in the camp. But I have recovered from my back stress and come back directly into the PSL. I am happy that it's going well and I am getting all the respect in the cricketing quarters. My family, who had been reluctant to allow me to play cricket, are the ones who motivate me to go far now. They were probably sceptical about me going into cricket as nobody believed that it had a great scope ahead. I wanted to follow my passion, and at least I am trying. Hopefully one day I will represent Pakistan."
After offspinner Saeed Ajmal faded away, Pakistan got legspinner Yasir Shah as a ready-made option to fit straight into the Test team. However, he has remained ineffective in limited-overs cricket. The competition now appears to be between Mir and Shadab Khan - another prospective talent who has had a good PSL - who are standing in queue and knocking at the selectors' door ahead of the West Indies series.
"To be honest, I never think about who is ahead of me or standing behind my back. I only focus on my cricket," Mir said. "I have never really bothered about the competition because I have a belief in myself and there isn't any sense of insecurity. Why? Because you get distracted and start overthinking and this affects your own performance. It's your self-belief and confidence that makes you a bigger player. I know everyone wants to play cricket and not many go on to play for the country. No matter what the future holds for me, I have chosen cricket and I am out here to give my everything to the game. The rest is up to destiny. At least I am satisfying myself by playing cricket and I think I did fairly well to secure my future with it."
The PSL stints, according to Mir, have helped in his developmental process in cricket as well as with his lifestyle. The 21-year-old says he is moulding his mentality and skill to be ready for international cricket.
"The best thing I found in PSL was the company of bigger players who have made their names in the world. In the first season I had Ravi Bopara, James Vince and Shakib Al Hasan, and this year we have even bigger names like Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Chris Gayle. Playing with them gives me a special kind of feeling and makes my confidence high. There is a lot to learn from them and my game awareness has really been enhanced at some level. I get to learn how to deal with pressure and how to react in different situations.
"I observe their work ethics and their life off the field to learn how to maintain myself. That actually helps me to become a better cricketer. It's not just me but all the cricketers who are going to represent Pakistan at some stage are getting everything a cricketer needs to learn. After this [the PSL], when I go back to domestic cricket, I am more confident than ever and this is exactly how the PSL is going to help us."

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent