Usman Qadir: lost in Pakistan, found in Australia

Son of Abdul Qadir, the 25-year old legspinner talks about carrying the burden of his surname, his role model, and his aspirations to play for Australia

Alex Malcolm
Getty Images

Getty Images

It started with a phone call.
Then Perth Scorchers coach Justin Langer was informed early during last year's Big Bash League of a young Pakistani legspinner who was taking wickets for fun in Sydney Premier Cricket for Hawkesbury.
Usman Qadir, 25, son of the great Abdul Qadir, had already claimed two five-wicket hauls, as well as figures of 2 for 14, 3 for 15 and 4 for 18 in three T20s to help Hawkesbury through to the T20 Cup preliminary final prior to Christmas.
The Scorchers rarely look outside their Western Australian nest, but a series of events piqued their interest. They were decimated by injuries to their fast bowling brigade. Overseas signing David Willey was about to leave for international duty, and the development of Victorian legspinner James Muirhead was not working as planned.
Meanwhile, Rashid Khan was wreaking havoc for the Adelaide Strikers. A mystery legspinner, the son of a gun no less, was a tantalising prospect.
The impulsive move would have been to sign him sight unseen. But the Scorchers are three-time champions for a reason. They instead opted to fly Qadir to Brisbane for a training session ahead of their clash with the Brisbane Heat on January 5.
"I went there and I was quite nervous," Qadir tells ESPNcricinfo. "I just started bowling and after two or three balls I got my confidence back. I bowled pretty well over there and Justin Langer really liked me."
Langer wasn't the only one impressed. Adam Voges, then Scorchers captain and now their new coach, faced plenty of Qadir in the nets.
"He impressed everyone that day," Voges says. "None of us could pick him. He had some energy about him. He bowled with a smile on his face. And he bowled really well. Right from that moment you sort of thought there's something here. We certainly wanted to keep a relationship with him. We knew there was a possibility that we might be able to replace David Willey at the back end of the tournament so we just kept Usman in mind for that period."
But the Scorchers baulked at signing him. Even after losing to the Heat where their four quicks were taken for 167 from 16 overs before Yasir Shah took 1 for 27 from his four, the wheels were in motion to recruit Englishman Tim Bresnan.
They asked Qadir to join training in Sydney a week later and his recruitment for the following season was cemented on the low and slow practice wickets of Spotless Stadium. He made fools of the Scorchers' batsmen, five of whom had played international cricket.
The fact that Voges took over as coach also helped. As opposed to Langer observing from the back of the nets, Voges had been bamboozled by him, and knew the value of spinners in T20 cricket.
"We felt that we were a spinner short when we lost Ashton Agar to international duties last year," Voges says. "We felt we got exposed there. So, we sort of made it a priority when I came on board to try and find another option, because should Ash be away again we felt we needed something.
"He's got a quick-arm speed. A bit like a Rashid Khan; he's quick through the air as well. Even if you think you've picked it, you haven't got much time to adjust if you've got it wrong.
"It gives us an option of playing two spinners, which is something different to how we've gone in the past."
Voges got more than he bargained for. The Scorchers opted to bring Qadir to Perth to train with the Western Warriors in the lead-up to the JLT Cup in September. He played in a practice match against South Australia and took 7 for 35.
He made his state debut for the Warriors against Victoria at the Junction Oval and took 3 for 50, claimed the prized wicket of Cameron White, and promptly declared he wanted to play in the 2020 T20 World Cup for Australia.
"This is my goal and I'm looking forward," Qadir says. "If the opportunity comes I want to grab that. That's the plan."
Why the son of a Pakistani legend wishes to play for Australia is a question that would require two or three hours to answer, according to Qadir himself.
After he represented Pakistan at the 2012 Under-19s World Cup in Australia, Darren Berry, then South Australia coach, brought him to Adelaide to play club cricket. He took two seven-wicket hauls and two six-wicket hauls in seven games and played two Futures League games for South Australia.
But at his father's request, Qadir returned home to play first-class cricket for National Bank of Pakistan. Over three years, he played eight first-class matches, 14 List A games and 13 T20s. His last first-class match in Pakistan, in December 2014 against Port Qasim Authority, perhaps summed up his experience. He was picked as a bowler, but did not bowl a ball in the match.
The perception of nepotism plagued his career in Pakistan. His father's tenuous relationship with the Pakistan Cricket Board did not help. It is a burden Qadir carries with him.
"Unfortunately, I have a big name with me," Qadir says. "It's quite difficult if I talk about my father. I don't want to do that. In Pakistan I didn't play lots of cricket. That's why I did not get opportunities. So that's why I moved to Australia."
His relationship with his father is good despite, like many fathers and sons, some rocky moments. He is still proud to be the son of Abdul Qadir but he wants to be his own man.
"He carries the name and so everyone, I think, makes the assumption or makes the connection," Voges says. "Usman is very aware of that. I think part of that is the reason he's come out to try his luck in Australia. He speaks a lot about his dad. But he wants to forge his own path and hopefully he can out here.
"He hasn't played a lot of cricket but he's got some really good variations and he can actually bat as well, so that's good. I think he'll keep learning. The more he gets exposed, the more he gets the opportunity to play out here, the more he'll keep learning."
He is learning quickly in Australia. His splash in the JLT Cup should have been no surprise given his performances in club cricket, which he describes as some of the most competitive cricket he's played.
It led to selection in the Prime Minister's XI game against South Africa in Canberra, where he took 3 for 28. It also gave him a chance to catch up with his hero and mentor, Imran Tahir.
"Mostly, I like to watch Imran Tahir," Qadir says. "He's like my brother. Whenever I get into difficulties I speak to my dad and Imran Tahir.
"He said, 'you bowled pretty well. Just go with your flow, whatever you are doing, you're performing really well. Just keep working hard and you can achieve your goal.' This was his advice to me."
Now Qadir gets his chance in the BBL as the league becomes a haven for overseas spinners to make their mark. Rashid has forged a path and every other club has taken the Strikers' lead. The Brisbane Heat have added Afghanistan teenager Mujeeb Ur Rahman while the Melbourne Stars have signed Nepal youngster Sandeep Lamichhane. Mohammad Nabi returns for another overseas stint at the Melbourne Renegades and now the Scorchers, a side whose success is built on the back of a deep pace-bowling unit, have gambled on Qadir.
Voges, with more recent batting experience in the league than any other coach, said it was easy to see why spinners were having such a significant impact on the tournament.
"Not being able to pick guys, which way it's spinning, and the pressures of being able to score are huge," Voges says.
"I guess it's just their skill that has made scoring really quite difficult. I think Rashid Khan has been a breath of fresh air into the competition and certainly was a big part of Adelaide's success last year. We'd be mad not to try and copy something like that."
All Usman Qadir ever wanted was an opportunity. Now he's found it in the last place you would ever think to look.

Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne