AnalysisWatch out, everyone. Pakistan have a finisher – Asif Ali’s Journey

Watch out, everyone. Pakistan have a finisher – Asif Ali’s Journey

Asif Ali announced himself on the world stage with epic finishes in the World Cup against New Zealand and Afghanistan.

“Every team needs an Asif Ali. Very few teams have them.” – Simon Doull

“What an exhibition of striking from Asif Ali! Watch out, everyone. Pakistan have a finisher.” – Nasser Hussain

Would Pakistan’s latest cricketing hero have ever envisioned that a day like this would come? Perhaps not. Any young cricketer aspiring to play for Pakistan dreams of adorning that star on their chests. But do they dare go beyond that and imagine standing in the middle of a pulsating crowd after having won Pakistan a World Cup match? It’s unlikely, but Asif Ali lived that dream in the past few days. Not once, but twice. But the long journey to the top started over a decade ago…


Asif Ali is just finishing up his day job as a worker at a steel factory. Despite working long hours, the young man is determined to also stay fit and play cricket. Not long ago, he was solely playing tape ball cricket. He would train to stay fit in the evening, running up and down stairs and doing bodyweight exercises. Now, he’s also playing club cricket. Today, he’s going to play a club cricket final. The match includes several established First Class cricketers.

As Asif heads to the game, he still has grease on his hands from finishing work at the factory. His side fields first in the T20 game. The opponents make an unimposing total of 131. Then, Asif goes out to open the batting with his partner. Halfway through the 20 overs, the target is achieved. His opening partner is still there, having made 9 runs. Asif has made the rest.


Asif Ali has now entered the Faisalabad domestic cricket system. He’s made his First Class and List A debut, but things haven’t really gone to plan. It’s not easy for a 19-year-old to find his feet at the top level. But his coach, the recently retired Ijaz Ahmed jr., likes what he’s seen. He really wants him to play in the upcoming National T20 Cup. He convinces Misbah-ul-Haq to include him in Faisalabad Wolves’ playing XI.

The youngster will be batting at number 3 today. The experienced Mohammad Hafeez is going out to open the innings alongside wicket-keeper Asif Hussain. However, Asif gets no time to think about what will happen once he goes out there on his T20 debut. Hafeez falls to Abdur Rauf on the innings’ first ball. He has to join his namesake at the crease right away.

17 overs later, the debutant celebrates a hundred. He has achieved something only two batsmen have done before him – a T20 debut ton. Moin Khan was the first to do so in 2005. Indian batsman Akshath Reddy was the second in 2010. Asif Ali is the third. His captain is seriously impressed with the young man from Faisalabad. He decides that he’s going to persist with him for a long time to come.


It’s now late 2015. Four years have passed since Asif’s T20 debut. His struggles in the longer formats have continued. But one format where he still feels at home is T20 cricket.

The Pakistan Super League draft is coming up, and he harbors hopes of making it to the big stage – Pakistan’s own franchise league. Draft day comes and goes. He isn’t selected. Islamabad United captain and long-time backer Misbah mentions in a column that Asif was unfortunate to miss out.

But wait. Two days before the start of the tournament, Islamabad United lose the services of supplementary player Umar Siddiq who is injured. Asif is called up as a replacement player, and he links up again with captain Misbah.


14th February 2016. Islamabad United are up against Karachi Kings. Asif made his PSL debut in the last match; he made a golden duck, and United lost. Now, they have won just 2 in 6 and are in a must-win situation. Islamabad are chasing a total of just 128, but the top order hasn’t done well; they are struggling. Asif finishes the game in the penultimate over with two sixes – his first finish in the PSL.


PSL 3: Final vs. Peshawar Zalmi. United are chasing 149, and Luke Ronchi has decimated most of the target early on. But he falls, and United lose 6 wickets for 20 runs. United have held Asif back till #8, and he comes in. They still need 33 runs, but they have just 4 wickets in hand. Hasan Ali has just bowled a spectacular over, taking 2 wickets and conceding one run.

Asif knows one way to play, and that is to go on the attack. He hits Hasan for three consecutive sixes to kill Zalmi’s hopes. Islamabad United win their second PSL title, and Asif has come into his own this season. No middle-order batsman hit more sixes than his tally of 16.


PSL 4: Asif Ali sets the tone for United in the first match of the season. Chasing 172, his 19-ball 36* proves pivotal in winning his side the game. The next few games go quietly until a six-wicket loss to Multan Sultans. After the match, Islamabad United Head Coach Dean Jones loses his cool with a journalist who takes a dig at Asif, suggesting he “can not be a finisher.” A clearly upset Jones warns the journalist that he doesn’t know what’s happening behind the scenes.

The next day after that incident, Asif plays one of his best innings in an orange shirt. Coming in at 47/3 in chase of 169, he wins his side the game with a 38-ball 70. He goes on to play two more crucial knocks: 55* off 21 to set up a massive total and 24* off 10 to knock Karachi Kings out of the tournament.

United, however, fall just before the final, but that’s not the end of the story. A heartbroken Dean Jones announces in the post-match press conference that Asif’s daughter is seriously ill. Almost in tears, he tells the journalists Asif is a good kid. Amidst the unfolding of a personal tragedy, Asif has just finished the tournament with 281 runs @ 35, a strike rate of 182, and 26 sixes.


Less than two years old, Asif Ali’s daughter sadly passed away in May 2019. In various interviews gone past, Asif had stated that his daughter was a blessing. She was the light of his life, and he had “asked Allah for a daughter.” His prayers were answered, but his daughter went to heaven at a young age. Many of Asif’s international appearances were around this time – when there was a personal tragedy of staggering proportions occurring in his family.


PSL 6: After a lean patch over the last year, Asif looks to be back to his best. In the second match, he comes in with United needing 21 off 14 balls and finishes off the chase in 9. Later in the tournament, he plays stunning innings of 75 (43) and 43 (14). When the World Cup squad is announced later, he makes a dramatic comeback to the national side.


Pakistan need 48 off 31 balls to defeat New Zealand. The pitch is really slow, and the atmosphere is tense. But Asif has been here before. He has done it in Sharjah many times. He knows the ground like the back of his hand. He hits 17 off his first 4 deliveries, including two sixes off Tim Southee, and the game is as good as over. Thanks, New Zealand, but Asif has been waiting for this moment his whole life. He’s living the dream.

Two days later, it’s time for Afghanistan. Their batsmen have put up a decent total, while their spinners have kept a lid on the runs. It comes down to 24 off 2 overs. The first ball is an attempted yorker. Asif has, however, assessed the field. He knows what’s coming. He moves deep into his crease – almost perilously close to the stumps to manufacture the length for the shot – and sends the ball flying 92 meters. Three more sixes in the remainder of the over finish the match. The whole of Pakistan rejoices.


Make no mistake. What Asif Ali achieved over the past week was the result of intense hard work and passion. He has evolved from a young Pakistani batsman, yearning for the big stage, to a top-level performer. That he has been doing it for years in the PSL is to his credit. But we shouldn’t overlook how he has developed his game in other formats as well.


Format Inns Runs Ave SR 100s 50s
FC before 17/18 42 736 18.0 63.2 0 2
FC since 17/18 28 888 34.2 69.3 2 4
LA before 17/18 29 398 15.3 84.0 0 1
LA since 17/18 39 1527 41.3 127.1 4 9
T20 before 17/18 54 1184 24.7 132.9 1 5
T20 since 17/18 140 2672 25.2 157.2 0 9

Among batsmen who bat at #4 or below in T20s, 13 have more than 2000 runs since 2018, including Asif. Among them, only the superhuman Andre Russell has a better strike rate than Asif Ali’s 159. All these players are established stars in their own right. Asif is the only one who had to wait for the World Cup to truly announce himself on the world stage. Now, everyone has taken notice, including his fellow countrymen.


While Asif Ali was building his career, something else transpired on social media. Social media is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gets us closer to the players and teams and allows us to see what’s happening, almost in real-time. On the other hand, it brings us, including the worst of us, close to the players.

Asif Ali has been a source of ridicule on social media for a long time. He is an easy target for memes because we feel that a lower middle-order batsman in T20s must perform with the consistency of Babar Azam. Perhaps if any of the other big hitters around the world were Pakistani, they’d get the same treatment, except for the freak that is AB de Villiers.

The same is true for any of the other hard-hitting middle-order batsmen in Pakistan. They are often ridiculed as “tullas” and “brainless hacks” before the inevitable shift toward ridicule. Part of the blame goes to team managements that have often juggled players rather than choosing one and giving him a long run at what is traditionally one of the most challenging roles. Power hitters have a low success rate because of the high-risk nature of their style of play.

Support your cricketers during the good times and the bad. Everyone supports them during the good times, but few remain in the bad times. Rather, we even see people in the media trolling players in the harshest of ways possible, calling them names rather than offering constructive criticism.

For me, Asif Ali was a Pakistani hero before 26th October and the match against New Zealand for the way he’s lived his life. For Asif Ali, though, the innings against New Zealand and Afghanistan will mean the world. He has shown Pakistanis he belongs, and he has brought them joy that they may never have thought was possible. Perhaps that teenager in the steel factory envisioned this, but to actually go out there and deliver on the biggest stage?

This is why it wasn’t surprising in the least to hear what he had to say on the day after the Afghanistan win. “Last night, I was crying and thinking how lucky we are that Pakistanis are happy because of us in such difficult times.” As many have admitted, they have gone from being his haters to his fans. But why be a hater in the first place? These players have done something to get to where they are today. They must have some ability, some achievements backing them.

This has even more relevance in light of recent comments from Babar Azam’s father. These are humans out there, after all, competing with other humans, not preprogrammed robots. When the next Asif Ali comes around, let’s firstly try to be better humans. Let’s appreciate cricketers and other sportsmen as fellow humans first. Let’s criticize in a meaningful way rather than out of spite. Even if they fail, it’s not the end of the world.

Cricket is a game that we hold dear to our hearts, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a game.

The author

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