Aasif Karim: The enigma that rocked the dominant Aussies at the 2003 World Cup
The Afghanistan cricket team is making rapid strides in world cricket. Their excellent all-around effort at the 2018 edition of the Asia Cup made everyone realize they are a force to reckon with in international cricket. While some experts had foreseen their inevitable rise as a world-class unit, almost none of them could have envisaged the pace at which things would fall in place for the Afghans.
The Kenyan team that participated in the 2003 edition of the World Cup also enjoyed a similarly unprecedented dream run. It was a run that inspired millions in the African nation.
A striking feature of Kenya's campaign was their ability to surprise quality opposition with outstanding individual performances. Kenya had progressed through the group stages to the Super 6s on the back of some impressive individual as well as collective showings. And after defeating Zimbabwe, they were eyeing victory against the mighty Aussies.
Before the start of the tournament, a match against Australia would have possibly been considered a mismatch of epic proportions. But the way things had shaped up for Kenya in the tournament, the expectations had changed from a one-sided win for the Aussies to a hard-fought one.
Australia won the toss and elected to field first. Brett Lee's 3/14 decimated the Kenyan batting, and things seemed to have reverted to type.
A target of 175 never looked daunting; to be honest it didn't even look competitive. But a certain Aasif Karim had other ideas, and he gave the crowd what they had come to see.
Karim, the canny left-arm orthodox spinner, had come out of retirement to play for his national side - a feat rarely witnessed in cricket back then. The former captain was implored into making his comeback at the flagship event of international cricket.
The Australian opening duo of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist tore into the Kenyan bowling and scored the first 50 runs in just 6 overs. The two swashbuckling batsmen departed one after the other, but not before putting their side in a comfortable position at 98/2 in just 12 overs.
Then came the star of the show. Karim dismissed Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann and Brad Hogg in the space of 3 overs to push Australia from a dominant 98/2 to a delicate 117/5. The experience of bearing witness to a once-in-a-lifetime bowling spell from an unheralded bowler left the fans asking for more.
The 60 runs required now looked a lot more uncertain than they did a few overs ago. Karim's dismissal of Brad Hogg meant that his figures read 2-2-0-3.
Karim's turn and bounce halted the flow of runs off his bowling. In his first eight overs, he had conceded only 2 runs. His final spell read 8.2-6-7-3.
Eventually, all-rounders Ian Harvey (28*) and Andrew Symonds (33*) steadied the ship and took Australia to safety. Such was the depth of the Australian batting that even their lower order batsmen could forge important and match-winning partnerships.
Unfortunately for Kenya, Australia won the match by 5 wickets. Nonetheless, it was a dream spell from Aasif Karim that will be remembered forever by the fans and the connoisseurs alike.