Watching Shoaib Akhtar's yorkers at Worcestershire was brilliant: Kabir Ali

Kabir Ali (right) receives his England Test cap from captain Michael Vaughan (left) © Getty Images

By Saj Sadiq

Kabir Ali made his first-class debut almost 15 years ago and despite experiencing early success, including an England Test cap in 2003, injuries have subsequently blighted a promising career. At that time viewed as one of the brightest young stars on the county circuit, he took five wickets in his first and only Test match at an average of 27. He also represented England in 14 One-Day Internationals between 2003 and 2006 picking up 20 wickets. His England appearances came at the most fruitful time of his career, as he took 138 first-class wickets in two county seasons during this period.

Despite his recent injury problems, in first-class cricket he has managed to maintain an average of 27, with 438 wickets from 130 matches. He has fared equally well in domestic limited overs cricket, experiencing success in T20s as well as having taken 237 wickets from 164 matches at an average of 25 in List A matches, primarily for Hampshire and Worcestershire.

He also has had a stint in the Bangladesh Premier League, representing the Barisal Burners with Azhar Mahmood in this year’s edition of the tournament.

Ali penned a two year-deal with Lancashire prior to the commencement of the current English domestic season and will hope it will provide the launchpad he needs to resurrect his career. With the 2013 county season underway, PakPassion.net spoke to the 32 year-old right arm pace bowler and hard-hitting lower order batsman about his career to date, his hopes for the future and that over against South Africa.
 

PakPassion.net (PP): Being a Birmingham lad, you must be a little bit gutted that you never got the chance to play for Warwickshire?

Kabir Ali (KA): I played league and youth cricket in Warwickshire and a few second XI games for them, but unfortunately didn’t get the chance to play for their first team. Worcestershire came in and I signed a one year contract straight away which was a very good move for myself.

The year that I left Warwickshire, apart from the first team regular bowlers, they also had four or five other good bowlers in their squad so I was never going to play for a good few years. As a result of that I thought the best place for me was Worcestershire and I really enjoyed my cricket at Worcester.

PP: How old were you when you signed up for Worcestershire?

KA: Just after I turned eighteen I went with the youth development squad to South Africa with Warwickshire – Roger Newman [Academy Director at Warwickshire CCC], a very close and dear friend of mine, took a side out there. As soon as I came back from that tour Worcestershire came in with a decent offer and I thought “Yes, fair enough”. I wanted to play first team cricket and I moved on as I never thought I would get a run in the Warwickshire first team.

PP: You must have had some great times at Worcestershire – any particular moments or matches that stick out as ones you will always cherish?

KA: Obviously my first wicket was a very special moment. It was against Middlesex – Owais Shah. As a youngster you work very hard. [It has to do with] All the effort which I put in myself and a lot from my family – if it wasn’t for my family I probably wouldn’t have been a first class cricketer. For that, I would like to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart.

I was also so lucky to play in the same team as Graeme Hick, Glenn McGrath and Vikram Solanki who I have become very good friends with over the years and still stay in contact with them.

PP: You mentioned Glenn McGrath there – an absolute legend, one of the greatest bowlers ever to play the game – was there any advice that he offered you when you played for the same team?

KA: It was brilliant. I’d seen him on television and I wondered how I would approach someone like that but I didn’t need to. He was such a great bowler and such a nice person – he came to me and always offered advice, there was no ego at all. You learn so much just by watching these greats such as Glenn McGrath and Shoaib Akhtar who also played at Worcestershire.

I also played against Wasim Akram quite a few times and it was great to watch Wasim bowl even whilst on the opposition. I tend to learn more by watching these players and I was very lucky at Worcestershire to train with the likes of Graeme Hick and Glenn McGrath and so many other big names.

PP: You mention Shoaib Akhtar. He had an interesting time at Worcestershire and didn’t go down too favourably with one or two of the hierarchy at the club. That must have been interesting sharing a dressing room with Shoaib?

KA: Personally for me it was good. There were some similarities between our actions but obviously the pace was very different! He was another who spoke to me quite a bit about bowling especially the art of delivering yorkers. Watching Akhtar bowl his yorkers was brilliant. I mean I was very lucky to have the opportunity to play with these great names and legends of the game and they really helped me in different ways with my bowling.

PP: Your career has been dogged by injuries lately. What do you put that down to? Is it just bad luck or is it a case of being a fast bowler, you are likely to pick up injuries with age?

KA: I have been quite unlucky with injuries. When I moved from Worcester to Hampshire I started brilliantly. I took 20 plus wickets in something like four games, but unfortunately I developed a knee problem. I then came back and came back strong.

I have now come to Lancashire but I have had a little bit of a niggle in my knee just before the start of the season. It’s not too serious though. Everything is going nicely and InshAllah (God willing) I will be back playing soon. I should start bowling again in a few days time if everything goes well, and hopefully I’ll be back on the park very soon.

PP: It must have been very difficult leaving Worcestershire – after all those good years, the club you first signed for and leaving behind all those happy memories?

KA: Yes I spent ten or eleven years at Worcester and made some very good friends and have some very fond memories of the place. Yes it was very difficult at the time, it always is when you leave good friends, but I felt I needed a change and I thought it was time to move on. In addition to Worcestershire I was really enjoying myself also at Hampshire as I was taking wickets there. Unfortunately I broke down and my knee gave up in the early part of the season at Hampshire. I also made some good friends there but again I just felt like I needed a bit of a change. I’ve only been at Lancashire a short time but I’m at a very happy place at the moment, looking forward to playing for Lancashire and everyone at the club seems to be pulling together nicely.

PP: Do you think County cricket at the moment has the right balance of matches across all formats over the course of a season?

KA: We have players that come from Australia, South Africa and other parts of the world. They come here as you can learn a lot of good skills – county cricket sharpens your techniques and your skills. There is a lot of cricket played here over the season from a bowlers point of view. However, the squads have become quite big as well and all teams tend to now rotate their bowlers.

You tend to find that if a fast bowler plays two or three games, they’ll rest him the fourth game so he can get some rest. I think there is a system in county where they look after the bowlers. Like I said, there is a lot of cricket, but to be honest, we get paid for what we enjoy doing and I’m sure there’s not many people that complain about workload.

Watching Shoaib Akhtar's yorkers at Worcestershire was brilliant: Kabir Ali

Kabir Ali took five wickets on his Test debut against South Africa at Leeds in 2003 © Getty Images

PP: You took five wickets on your Test debut. Some bowlers would do anything for that achievement. It must hurt a bit to only have played one Test match?

KA: Yes, I thought I did pretty well in that Test match but I just never got picked again. Selectors have a job to do, they have to pick the best eleven, unfortunately I wasn’t picked again but I’m very proud of that Test match I played. Nobody can take that way as it was International cricket and I took five wickets – I’m very proud of it! There are not many people that can say they’ve played a Test match and also fourteen One-Day Internationals. I’ve been lucky enough to experience the feeling of playing international cricket and I’m very proud of it.

PP: But despite that, surely you must wish you had played a little more international cricket?

KA: Yes, definitely. I’ve always picked up wickets in county cricket and as a result received my chance in international cricket. Apart from the last two ODIs for England versus Sri Lanka where Sri Lanka beat us 5-0, I thought I did pretty well for England. Anybody can have two bad games, but unfortunately, I never played again.

Like I said, I’m very proud and thankful for the opportunity I got and there’s no bitterness from my side.

PP: Tell us about that game in South Africa where South Africa needed 8 to win off 6 balls, yet, you managed to tie the game. What was it like, bowling that last over?

KA: It was a great experience and I was very nervous. I don’t think I bowled great in that game as it is quite a difficult place to go and play cricket and bowl, especially with the lineup that South Africa generally has. In the last over, I was lucky that Darren Gough was there and Trescothick was captain as I got some great feedback from them. If you take a look at the footage, Goughy was there pretty much every other ball. I think it was quite a long over – It took 14 or 15 minutes to bowl that one last over! Luckily for me, apart from the first ball, everything went along nicely.

PP: Any other memorable experiences or wickets from your international career?

KA: I think every international wicket is important and Test matches are the highest level of cricket. I got my first Test wicket of Neil McKenzie off the 3rd or 4th ball which will always stick in my mind. It was a special moment for me and one I’ll always cherish.

PP: Did you remind Neil [McKenzie] about that when he was at Hampshire?

KA: (laughs) Yes, I did, he did score 70 in that game but I did let him know that I got him out.

PP: You played in Indian domestic cricket, in the Ranji Trophy for Rajasthan. Tell us about that experience and how it compared to county cricket in England?

KA: It was a good experience. Everything was different out there, as you can imagine. The wickets are flatter and more batsman-friendly. But, I enjoyed it and played a few games – even the travelling and everything else was an experience. You also learn that the margin of error for a bowler is minimal. Anything off your line and length and it goes to the boundary. The bats are massive, it’s a quick outfield and it’s hot…very very hot. There’s not much going for the bowlers in India. There again, it was a good experience and I really enjoyed myself. As a bowler and a player, you tend to learn as you go along all the time and that was a wonderful experience.

PP: So how as a bowler do you think that experience in India helped you?

KA: It helped a lot – it was different from my previous experiences as a cricketer, one knows that you don’t have the same plans as the experienced bowlers. They [experienced bowlers] figure out the strengths and weaknesses of batsmen pretty soon. They also know that line and length is key on any wicket. As a younger bowler, once again from my experience, I know that you can get carried away by bowling two good balls and then you try and bowl a ‘magic ball’. The fact is that you just have to sit back and bowl a good length and just “bore” the batsman out on the Indian wickets.

PP: The Pakistan Super League was supposed to commence this year. Obviously that’s been shelved now for a later date. Is the PSL something that may interest you in future?

KA: Definitely. The problem would have been that it would have clashed with the start of our season this year. Counties would want their main players just to take part in the county season. I would have loved to have gone to Pakistan and played though. ECB and senior players have said no because of security reasons, but whatever the ECB decides in future will I’m sure be with the player’s best interests in mind.

PP: You played in the Bangladesh Premier League for the Barisal Burners. That must have been an interesting experience going out to Bangladesh and playing that tournament alongside and against some of the world’s best cricketers.

KA: I’ve played out there for 2 seasons and I’ve enjoyed both years. Twenty20 is a very fast game and with the conditions and wickets – in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, they tend to favour the batsmen more than the bowlers. The margin of error is minimal which means there is a lot of pressure on the bowlers – which is good. I’ve enjoyed the situations because as a player you’ve got to be able to handle pressure. It was a very enjoyable experience.

PP: Do you think these T20 tournaments around the world are good for the game of cricket? They are obviously adding a new dimension to cricket. Fans love it. It is very ‘American’ – three hours and the game is finished, cheerleaders, music, etc?

KA: Yes, I personally think so. I’ve enjoyed this format of the game. It’s a short form – three hours long and the crowds are different than the fans at four-day games. There’s a lot more noise and music. There’s people dancing around and it’s a very enjoyable format. If you’re doing well, you’re fine otherwise you get a lot of stick from the crowd if things aren’t going so well. At the same time it’s a good experience as well and there is good banter all around.

PP: Tell us about your cousin Kadeer. What’s he up to? He was regarded as a highly rated batsman in England. Is he still playing cricket?

KA: Yes, he’s playing club cricket. He also played a few games for Leicester. I think he will be doing the same this year as he knows the cricket system has changed where there is a certain age group of players that are unfortunately missing out. He’s always been a good player. He’s playing a bit of club cricket in the Birmingham League and I am sure he’ll be playing some games for Leicester.

PP: Do you think Moeen Ali has the potential to play cricket for England at some point?

KA: Yes, definitely. I am very surprised that he’s not in the make up in the Test squad. He’s always been amongst the wickets and he’s a good fielder and also gets runs in all forms of the game. He’s had a pretty good start this year. If he keeps this up and continues to perform I’m sure his chance will come.

PP: What are the team aims and your personal ambitions for this season at Lancashire?

KA: The team aim is definitely to go straight back up to Division I and win both or either one of the Twenty20 or the Pro40 competitions. On a personal level, the goal is to just get myself on the park and get through the whole season. If I get through the season, I back myself to pick up wickets along the way and hopefully be part of a promotion to Division 1.

(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)