That action, that guile: just 14, Usman Qadir is a chip off the old block and looks set to go far
Fourteen-year-old Usman Qadir makes the expression "like father, like son" seem an understatement. In his bowling he is the spitting image of his father, the legendary legspinner Abdul Qadir. Amazing it is for one so young to bowl six accurate deliveries across 22 yards; more so for him to not just bowl an immaculate length but also have all the tricks a leggie can boast of.
Usman was one of the star attractions in the recently-concluded PCB Under-16 regional competition. He took 5 for 37 against Karachi to anchor Lahore's win in the semi-final, and then two wickets in the win over Islamabad in the final, finishing with 13 wickets - second-best in the competition.
More than his figures, it was the unmistakable Qadir action that caught the eye. It is not strange for little boys to want to grow up to be like their fathers. And in this case, a whole generation grew up on Qadir's legendary bowling in the 1980s. But with his peculiar action, Abdul has always been tough to imitate. Usman, though, has the bloodlines. At eight he began to copy, frame by frame, his father's bowling action from videos. He now possesses the sharp look Abdul used to give batsmen, and the same sharp disguise in his bowling.
"People say that I have taken a leaf out of my father's book, and they are right," says Usman, who would sit in front of the television for hours, watching his father's matches, etching the pictures into his memory. He would even dream of his father bowling.
"The basic lesson I got was to bowl an off-stump line so that I could perfect the googly, which is always dangerous if a legspinner maintains the off-stump line," he says, giving an imaginary ball a rip.
Abdul was a hard taskmaster. "I invited his wrath whenever I bowled the wrong length," says Usman, who is in the seventh grade at the Cathedral School in Lahore. "My father helped me develop a bowling action, but he always told me that education came first."
Before he took the youngest of his four sons under his wing, Abdul initially tried to dissuade him. "Yes, I did try to stop him from playing cricket," he says. "I would call it my bad luck that all my sons took to cricket despite my advice, because cricketers' sons have never been treated properly in Pakistan."
Rehman the eldest, was a better batsman than he was a legspinner. He played for National Bank but failed to make it to the top. Imran then followed in his father's footsteps, and almost filled his shoes as a legspinner, before a dust allergy impeded his career. Both Rehman and Imran feature in league cricket in England regularly and earn their livings there.
Next came Sulaman Qadir. He was different in style and better in achievement. An offspinner and combative batsman, Sulaman was the vice-captain of the team that won the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh in 2004. He didn't get a chance at national level, though, which irks his father no end. "Sulaman hit a hundred on first-class debut, and despite Shaharyar Khan promising to give him a side match, he was overlooked."
I don't exaggerate, but in his early days Shane Warne didn't bowl a googly as perfect as Usman does
More than his sons' talent or lack of it, it was perhaps Qadir's propensity for calling a spade a spade and rubbing the establishment up the wrong way that damaged the boys' prospects. Usman is yet to reach the stage where his career could be halted in similar fashion, but he is aware of what befell his brothers. "Dad told me that he would only help me master the art and would never go to anyone to beg for a place for me," he says.
Abdul for his part is full of praise for his youngest. "It is not that he was dearer than other sons, but his devotion and ability to pick up a lesson amazed me," he says. "In a short time Usman has learned all the three frames [according to Qadir senior, every batsman has three frames of motion which bowlers identify and exploit] of a right-hand and a left-hand batsman. I don't exaggerate: in his early days Shane Warne didn't bowl a googly as perfect as Usman does."
The boy has progressed in leaps and bounds. His father had him play three games for the family club, Dharampur Gymkhana, where, bowling to batsmen twice his age, Usman bagged five wickets in each match. "Everyone was amazed at his bowling," Abdul says. "Without my permission, Usman took the LCCA [Lahore City Cricket Association] trials and was picked for inter-district Under-19 matches. He took five wickets in each of the two zone matches. Then he shone in the Under-16 competition, and I felt so proud when some of my Habib Bank colleagues phoned to tell me that they saw the Qadir of the 1970s in Usman."
Unlike Abdul, who never paid much attention to his batting, Usman is determined to contribute in both departments. Already he is a bit of a dasher who can slog to good effect, and his batting idol is Adam Gilchrist. Bowling remains his top priority, though.
Usman's sights are set on making it to international cricket first. After that, the first target is to go past Warne's tally of wickets and then Muttiah Muralitharan's world record. His other dream is to bowl at Sachin Tendulkar. That would be a sight to behold: memories of a 16-year-old Tendulkar launching Qadir for sixes during his 18-ball 53 on the 1989 tour still remain fresh in the mind. How would the son fare?