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K.M. Asif, Dubai storekeeper from Kerala, returns as IPL star in UAE

K.M. Asif, Dubai storekeeper from Kerala, returns as IPL star in UAE

Kerala fast bowler K.M. Asif’s life could make a good script for a Bollywood movie. The sole breadwinner of a family of five who lived under a leaky roof, he made two unsuccessful attempts to eke out a living in the UAE and provide for his family. Failed and forlorn, he went back to Kerala with only cricket offering some solace. That solace turned into success, and Asif is now back in the UAE to play the Indian Premier League.

Four years ago, Asif made his first foray to Dubai. He needed a job badly. His father was a labourer and his mother a homemaker. His brother is mentally challenged, and his sister’s brain tumour required surgery. And they all lived in a house that leaked when it rained. And it often rained in Kerala.

So for Asif, it was not just a matter of putting food on the table. He needed money to fix a lot of things. For Keralites in financial distress, a job in a Gulf country is the shortest route to ease their fund crunch. That’s how Asif landed in the UAE, at the age of 23.

He even found a job as a storekeeper in a bottling plant in Dubai. But cricket burned bright in his mind. The call of cricket was too strong to ignore, so he packed his bags and went back to Kerala. And straight to cricket.

Asif’s raw pace caught the attention of Australian speedster Jeff Thomson during the trials for fast bowlers at Wayanad district. He even made the shortlist, but beyond that, Asif’s cricket dreams failed to crystallise. More disappointment followed when he didn’t figure in the list of probables for Kerala.

I can play a bigger role for CSK. Last time, I hardly had played any games prior to the IPL, and so I did not have the confidence or experience then. This time, I’ve already got some experience. I believe that I will get the opportunities and I now know how to utilise them.

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Cricket didn’t offer him a future. So Asif boarded the flight to Dubai again, on a visit visa. Cricket intervened again. At the UAE national trials, coach Aaquib Javed, former Pakistan fast bowler, was impressed with Asif’s pace and recommended him for a job. But that fell through since he was blacklisted for not having fulfilled his previous contract.

When the desert dreams soured again, Asif went back and did what he knew best. Play cricket. He could bowl. So he bowled for hours. That paid off as Asif found a place in the Kerala squad for Mushtaq Ali Trophy, where L. Sivaramakrishnan took note of his talent.

The former India leg-spinner referred Asif to the Chennai Super Kings. Asif landed a contract worth 4 million rupees [around Dh200,000 at today's rate] in 2018 and made his debut the same year. A debut he’s unlikely to forget. Asif so was strung up that he couldn’t sleep before the match against Delhi Daredevils in Pune.

Advice from Shane Watson and MS Dhoni

This is what Asif told ESPNcricinfo: “ [Shane] Watson told me, ‘I’ve heard you’re a very good tennis-ball bowler. Think this is tennis-ball cricket, just bowl fast, don’t worry about being hit.’ That calmed me down.”

“On match day, Dhoni bhai put his arm on my shoulder and told me to not worry, ‘even if you bowl four overs and give 40 runs, no problem. This is your chance.’”

And the rest is history. Not yet. Asif is still in the process of earning a regular place in the side. He’s played only a handful of games for Chennai but continues to work on his bowling to improve his repertoire.

“I can play a bigger role for CSK. Last time, I hardly had played any games prior to the IPL, and so I did not have the confidence or experience then. This time, I’ve already got some experience. I believe that I will get the opportunities and I now know how to utilise them,” Asif told the New Indian Express.

Cricket continues to be Asif’s passion. It’s helped rebuild his life. His family has moved to a new home, and it no longer gets flooded during monsoon. Cricket even brought him back to Dubai. A third time. No, he’s not here for a job. He’s here to do a job, for Chennai Super Kings.

Will it be third time lucky for him? Only Asif chettan (brother) can answer that.