He may have died of a heart attack seven weeks ago, but at the Gaddafi Stadium on Friday, the influence of Abdul Qadir loomed large. His son Usman Qadir, picked for Pakistan’s T20I squad to Australia, could talk about little else on the eve of Pakistan’s departure, speaking poignantly about how important it was to his father that he play for Pakistan, and what how much it meant to him.
A kind observer might term it fateful, and a cynical one revisionist, but it’s clear either way Usman following the footsteps of his father and donning the Pakistan shirt was never, ever a done deal. He had, years ago, become disillusioned with the nation his father represented with such ebullient distinction, and sought greener (or in his case, yellower pastures) when he declared his allegiance to Australia last year, resolving to represent that country in the international game instead.
Just two weeks ago, the idea he might be selected for Pakistan prompted a derisive snort from head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq. In that sense, his selection is, even by Pakistan cricket standards, an exceptionally quick u-turn, but, even in death, it proved Abdul Qadir prescient.
“He always said I should stay strong, and that in Pakistan, if you performed, things could change very quickly and you could find yourself selected,” Usman said. “He taught me never to give up, and he always wanted to see me represent Pakistan. Even in my last conversation with him, he said he wished I would play for Pakistan.
“It all changed when my father died. My main goal became to fulfil his desire. When I was going to Australia, the one thing he said was ‘I wish you go on to get the Pakistan star on your chest.’ Everyone wants to represent their own country, and I’m the same. Now that I’m going to Australia, I’m really missing him and if he was alive he’d be so proud.”
While many believed, some perhaps too much so, that having Abdul Qadir for a father massively boosted the opportunities Usman would get, the 26-year old insisted it probably went the other way just as much. Whispers of nepotism never quite went away, and it was the desire to prove he was good enough that heavily motivated the move to Australia, telling Cricinfo last year the real reason he gave up on playing for Pakistan would take “two or three hours” to properly address.
It is easy to forget he was selected to tour the West Indies with Pakistan as a 19-year old in 2013, only for the PCB to change its mind, a decision that Usman said led him to “go home and weep”. It was the beginning of Usman’s disenchantment with Pakistan cricket, leading to a lengthy absence in which he played no first-class cricket in Pakistan. All that while, opportunities from Australia continued to turn his head, with then South Australia’s director of cricket Jamie Cox saying Usman would need to make “more of a commitment” if he wanted to play for Australia.
“It became difficult for me in Pakistan because the Qadir name is a big one,” Usman said. “I still wear it proudly on my shirt. It was difficult because people believed there was favouritism. I used to play and even when I performed, I couldn’t quite make any progress with regards to selection. But my father always said I should be strong, and no need to lose hope. When I was named in the squad for the West Indies tour, I was playing a match and I was told I’d been selected. After [I couldn't go], I didn’t play cricket in Pakistan.”
It’s also clear Usman is always hungry for ways to improve his game. He repeatedly distinguishes himself from his father by talking about much work still lying ahead of him if he was to master the variations that made Abdul Qadir so lethal. His eyes sparkle when he speaks about the finer points of his game and how conducive it is to various grounds in Australia, particularly the new one in Perth where he played the BBL for the Perth Scorchers and where Pakistan will play the third T20I next month.
“My father used to say to me you should learn the yorker. I tried my hardest to work on that ball, but without luck. But the last six or eight months, I’ve been working on my yorker and getting some control on that ball. I still don’t bowl it in actual games, but I think I’m getting closer to mastering it.
“What happens is pitches in Australia are very quick. In Pakistan, the spinners get taken for lots of runs and they have no choice but to bowl in the same slot over and over again and hope for wickets. In Australia, they don’t have as many spinners, so they’re always on the lookout for any. When they confront a spinner, they find it harder. They practice spinners on the bowling machine, but facing a real spinner is difficult, and I’m hopeful I can cause some problems.
“The new stadium in Perth, the ball breaks a lot. If you pitch the ball outside off stump, in fact, it’ll break almost anywhere in the world. When I first played in Perth, I pitched outside off stump and found turn. When I played in Sydney and Canberra, the ball broke quite a lot. In Perth, if you pitch outside off stump, it definitely spins.”
And while there’s little doubt his father has had the greatest impact on his career, be it advice on wrist position or more apocryphal home remedies (“My father said if you can’t control your nerves, breathe through your nose three times and exhale from your mouth and it’ll help), there is a more modern influence whose brains he can pick.
“Imran Tahir has been a friend of my family since my childhood. He’s a wonderful man, and someone I always look to for advice. I got a message from him a couple of days ago telling me not to panic, and to call him if I had any questions or problems.”
Abdul Qadir can rest easy. His boy may be off to Australia, but it’s the Pakistan star he’ll sport on his chest. – Cricinfo