Aasif Karim, born on December 15, 1963, was a Kenyan left-arm spinner who was one of their key players in the late 1990s and also the 2003 World Cup. He is mainly remembered for a dream spell against Australia during the 2003 World Cup where he picked up three wickets for only seven runs. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at Karim’s career.
Some sportspersons are destined for that one moment in history. It is something that has been written for them and that is something they would be remembered for. While Kenya had a dream run during the 2003 World Cup that saw them reach the semi-final, the 39-year-old Aasif Karim etched his name in the cricket lovers’ memory with a great spell against the eventual world champions. In a Super Six encounter against Australia, his left-arm orthodox troubled them in a small run-chase as he finished with figures of 8.2-6-7-3. This was unheard of!
Born in Mombasa on December 15, 1963, young Aasif was in the midst of a sporting Karim family. His grandfather had moved to Kenya from India in the 1930s and had settled there. His father, Yusuf, was also a sportsman as he was known for his exploits in tennis on the national scene. His brother Aarif also excelled in tennis and played cricket as well. As a result, sport was nothing but a natural choice for Karim and he played tennis and cricket from a very young age. In fact, he made waves on the tennis circuit and that won him a scholarship to a university in the United States of America (USA). He also captained Kenya in the Davis Cup.
In 1980, Karim made it to the Kenyan cricket squad for the tour to Zimbabwe after some impressive performances in the domestic leagues. He played on that tour in 1980-81 and then was away from the team until 1986. He returned in 1986 and was a part of the side that eyed a transition to a higher level.
However, managing two sporting ambitions is no easy task. When his commitments clashed on one occasion, he made a choice and picked cricket. After all, Kenya were on the ascent and how could he miss being a part of it. He told Ahlulbayt, “Eventually it collided. In 1992, I had to make a major transformation and see which is the way forward. On one of the weekends, I was on the tennis open final and at the same time we had our cricket final, where I was the captain of the club. It became challenging and I made a decision then. We were heading to a bigger level in cricket.”
And, that call paid dividends as Karim got a chance to play in the international stage against the big boys. Kenya qualified for the 1996 World Cup and Karim made his debut against India at Cuttack. As India strolled to an easy win, Karim did manage to take his maiden wicket, that of Ajay Jadeja. Kenya’s biggest moment in the tournament came when they beat West Indies at Pune. Karim picked up the wicket of Courtney Walsh in that victory.
In 1997, Karim took over the captaincy and led them during the President’s Cup which featured Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. In the first game against Bangladesh, Karim recorded his career-best figures of five for 33. In the same game, Kenya had piled 347 in 50 overs with Deepak Chudasama and Kennedy Otieno scoring hundreds upfront. Bangladesh were bowled out for 197 thanks to Karim’s spell. In the second final of the tournament against Zimbabwe, Kenya were tottering at 71 for seven chasing 273. Karim walked out to bat and smashed 53 in 49 balls with six fours and two sixes. But, it was too little too late.
Karim had a few memorable moments with captaincy. The one that would stand out is the victory against India at Gwalior in 1998. Kenya put up 265 on the board and the Indian batting crumbled under pressure. Karim opened the bowling in that game and went wicket-less for 33 runs in eight overs. He then led Kenya in the 1999 World Cup after which he decided to concentrate on his full-time profession. One felt it was the end of his career.
Four years later, Alpesh Vadher and Karim were surprisingly recalled for the 2003 World Cup as the team needed experience. No one gave them a chance of qualifying for the Super Sixes let alone the semi-finals. But, Karim played only two games before that fateful night at Durban. As Australia chased 175 under lights, they got off to a great start as they smashed 98 in the first 12 overs. Karim came in when they were 109 for two in 15 overs. He then trapped Ricky Ponting plumb in front after tricking him with a few that turned away. Darren Lehmann then edged one behind in the next over and Brad Hogg spooned a catch back to him. Australia were now 117 for five in 18 overs with Karim’s figures reading 2-2-0-3. Australia were too strong though and they sailed through. Karim bowled four more maidens and was named the Man of the Match.
Karim’s last match was the semi-final against India at Durban, which Kenya lost by 91 runs. In all, Karim played 34 one-dayers for Kenya and took 27 wickets and scored 228 runs. He also scored one half-century. He then permanently moved away from playing the game and since then has concentrated on his job of being an insurance broker. However, his family’s sporting connection continues as his son Irfan is one of the promising batsmen from Kenya. The family’s rich sporting tradition has been chronicled in the documentary “The Karims — A Sporting Legacy.”
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