KARACHI: Not many bowlers leave Kane Williamson stunned, let alone on their debut. Even fewer produce a delivery that spins past the legendary New Zealand batter to hit the top of the off stump. In January, Usama Mir did both.
Just 13 balls into his international career, the lanky Usama got into his unique bowling action and pitched one on good length as Williamson — a veteran of more than 150 One-day Internationals — seemingly stuck in his crease, saw the ball elude him to see himself castled.
Before turning back to walk towards the pavilion here at the National Stadium, Williamson nodded in disbelief or maybe just admiration for his predator.
The delivery was a fairly fine display of leg-spin bowling — an art, a skill that needs years of honing — and Usama had done exactly that.
The 27-year-old has been in and around Pakistan’s domestic circuit for the last 10 years but had never really made a mark until the last season, in which he finished as the highest wicket-taker in the Pakistan Cup — the national 50-over tournament.
Bagging 28 wickets at an excellent average of 17.96 earned Usama his first call-up to the Pakistan camp, for the three-match ODI series against the visiting New Zealand side. Including Williamson’s scalp, the Sialkot-born spinner took four wickets in the series and featured in all three matches.
“It was like a dream come true,” Usama told Dawn on making his Pakistan debut. “I was the highest wicket-taker in the National One-day Cup (Pakistan Cup), but I wasn’t expecting [to be picked for Pakistan].
“When I saw my name in the squad, I was over the moon. My first wicket was one of the world’s best batsmen in Kane Williamson, you can’t ask for more.”
Facing oblivion two years ago, Usama couldn’t have imagined playing for Pakistan as he went unpicked in the 2021-22 domestic season. Things turned around for the right-armer after he spent time training at HBL Pakistan Super League franchise Lahore Qalandars’ High-Performance Centre before making his mark in first-class cricket.
“I’ve been playing cricket for a few years, in the PSL, domestic cricket and foreign T20 leagues but I wasn’t picked for the last domestic season (2021-22),” he said. “I was invited to train at the Lahore Qalandars High-Performance centre and they worked hard on me and when I was selected for domestic red-ball cricket, I bowled long spells, which turned me into a different bowler.”
In the last edition of the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy — Pakistan’s premier first-class tournament — Usama took 10 wickets in four matches, including a five-wicket haul, before going on to prove his mettle in the Pakistan Cup.
Usama noted bowling with the red ball made him a more lethal bowler.
“When you bowl with the red ball, you learn a lot of new, different things and so did I,” he said. “In the past, I used to bowl flatter and quicker but with the red ball I learnt to flight the ball.
“I applied the same with the white ball as well and got success. As a leg-spinner, I believe, if you bowl in the right areas, you are always a difficult bowler to play against.”
Usama was also decent in the National T20 Cup, claiming eight victims in a tournament dominated by fast-bowlers, and was drafted in by the 2021 PSL champions Multan Sultans — who had also let go of their mainstay spinner Imran Tahir — for the league’s ongoing eighth season.
With big boots to fill, Usama has not disappointed so far. For the Mohammad Rizwan-led side, he has emerged as their main spin option and has turned matches around for his team in his spells.
“I carried the confidence that I got when I played for Pakistan into the PSL and I’d like to thank Multan Sultans for giving me more confidence,” he said.
In six outings this season, he has preyed on nine victims at an impressive 18.44 and is currently the fourth-highest wicket-taker in the tournament.
With such numbers in the country’s flagship T20 event, having toiled across formats in domestic cricket and performing on his international debut, Usama is already knocking on the doors for selection for the ICC 50-over World Cup, which is scheduled to be held on India’s spin-friendly wickets later this year.
“I’ve set my goals and I’ll work really hard to do well in the upcoming series,” he said. “I’m working on improving myself and want to perform even better since the World Cup is near.”