Kenya’s Man of the Match

Kenya is one of those rare Commonwealth countries that has a large Indian diaspora population but where cricket isn’t so popular. It used to be. Kenya is only an associate member of the International Cricket Council, as is the United States, and so does not play test cricket, but thanks to some good qualifying tournament play, it has made it to the World Cup. It did so in 1996 and 1999 under the leadership of Aasif Karim. The spin bowler came out of retirement when his side qualified again in 2003 for the last world cup in South Africa. He had served as captain of the 1999 side.

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When I met him in his home, we tried to determine if his Indian descent and national team captaincy represented any sort of “first.” We wondered if he was the first desi to captain a national team (other than a team from the subcontinent) in a world cup (any cricket-mad mutineer know differently?).

Kenya won total of five matches in 2003, and Aasif was named Man of the Match for his performance against Australia (the world champions), even though his side lost. He enjoyed playing at the highest level but after the cup decided it was time to move on. Kenya’s commitment to cricket was small (professional sport here is hardly funded at all; even soccer, the most popular sport, lacks facilities, organization, and a commitment to development). But wouldn’t he like to be Kenya’s Brian Lara, perpetual captain and national cricket icon? “Better to go when they ask, ‘Why did you retire?’ and not ‘When are you going to retire?’”” he says. At 43, Aasif has his hand in a number of projects. He is the managing director of an insurance brokerage (he earned a degree in business and insurance from Howard University in Washington, DC), runs a small magazine devoted to sports in Kenya, works a little in real estate, and is organizing twenty-five years of press clippings and photos in the hopes of writing a book. “”There are no books about sports in Kenya,” he says. “No sports figures have written books, even though many of our athletes have done very well internationally.””

In Kenya, he says, no one knows who he is. “”But when I go to Mumbai, I’m always asked to sign autographs.””

His family is originally from Mumbai. His father was born there and emigrated to Mombasa, on Kenya’s coast, where he became a sports icon himself. Yusuf Karim was Mombasa’s tennis champion for a solid twenty-five years (1951-1977). He also played for Kenya’s national cricket squad.

Aasif went to Howard University on a tennis scholarship and had a tennis career of his own before playing cricket. How many fathers and sons have played for their country’s national cricket and tennis teams?

Aasif enjoys life in Nairobi. His family–—wife Nazneen, daughters Fatema (17) and Zainab (9), and sons Irfan (14) and Imran (4)–—enjoy the weather, the cosmopolitan atmosphere, and the restaurants. The kids are all into sports themselves. They have a lovely home in the Lavington section of Nairobi in a new development Aasif built, which includes space for his office, so he is always nearby.

He is looking for business opportunities. I suggested Bollywood. He’s quite tall and fit, with a rich deep voice. ““Yes, people tell me I look like Amitabh Bachchan–—but only from a distance.””

Here are some pictures of Aasif and his family, in his office and home. He’ll follow this post, so feel free to say hello, especially if you’re a Bollywood casting agent or a book publisher!

[1/9/07: minor edits for accuracy and clarity]

All images by Preston Merchant

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43 thoughts on “Kenya’s Man of the Match

  1. When I met him in his home, we tried to determine which “first” his Indian descent and national team captaincy represented. We figured that he was the first desi to captain a national team other than India in a world cup (any cricket-mad mutineer know differently?).

    Hi Preston, Nice article. As for your query, Nasser Hussain captained England with distinction for many years. His dad Joe is from Madras and he was born there as well, if I am not mistaken; however, his mom is English. It’s nice to see Asif Karim and his brood. Good luck to him.

  2. We figured that he was the first desi to captain a national team other than India in a world cup (any cricket-mad mutineer know differently?).

    I must be reading the sentence wrong or something. Karim captained the team for the first time in 1999. What about the desi captains of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh?

    And I think UAE team in the 1996 world cup was captained by a desi also, but I may be mistaken.

  3. Yeah, the question is about Indian diaspora cricketers, outside South Asia, serving as captains of national sides in the cup.

  4. Ack! My eyes! The girl is wearing an Arsenal shirt! Ack!

    Good on the lad for wearing an England shirt though. Looks like a nice house too.

    You can’t have a conversation about diaspora cricketers without mentiong Monty Panesar, the inspiration for the Monty mask. I’m always delighted and amazed at the positive power that minority sports heroes wield in bettering race relations, as Red Snapper once noted.

  5. And I think UAE team in the 1996 world cup was captained by a desi also, but I may be mistaken.

    Erm, that would be the enormously wealthy Sultan Zarawani; he was probably the only UAE national in that team full of Indian and Pakistani expats. He is famously stupid for facing Allan Donald without a helmet and being hit on the head:D A really funny incident, but, I can’t seem to find it on youtube. Here is what Cricinfo has to say about it:

    Sultan Zarawani was a multi-millionaire who was bitten by the cricket bug while at university in Pakistan, and he had the money to make his dream of playing in the World Cup a reality when he captained UAE’s motley collection of Asian expats in 1996. He proved, however, that immense riches do not necessarily mean that you are overloaded with common sense, and he went out to face a rampaging Allan Donald wearing only a sunhat. “Al, this guy’s asking for it,” snarled Pat Symcox. Donald agreed, and his first ball struck Zarawani on the head, knocking off his sunhat and sending the batsmen tottering around as if drunk. But after a few seconds, Zarawani picked up his sunhat and bravely/stupidly resumed as if nothing had happened. Mercifully, his impression of a duck in a shooting alley ended six balls later and without further mishap.
  6. We figured that he was the first desi to captain a national team other than India in a world cup (any cricket-mad mutineer know differently?).

    I believe there was one world cup match where Dipak Patel (Kenyan born, if I recall) captained New Zealand in 1992 when Martin Crowe was injured. If anyone remembers, he was the first true “pinch hitter” when he opened the batting against Australia.

    Of course, Nasser Hussain captained England in the 2003 world cup as well, though that was quite a disaster for that team, and Hussain lost the ODI captaincy then.

    In earlier times, both Rohan Kanhai and Alvin Kallicharan captained the Windies, but never during a World Cup. I don’t recall whether Ranjitsinhji (the Black Prince of English Cricket) or Duleepsinhji, ever captained England.

    Rohan

  7. In our street, I was captain for five straight years. I owned the only bat and the match always ended when I was out:D

  8. Harilal Shah captained the East African side in the first cricket World Cup in 1975. At that time, the East African team was a composite of the best players from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

  9. Here is Dipak Patel’s stats page on cricinfo

    I don’t think he ever captained New Zealand in the World Cup (or for that matter in any other tournamnet). The unusual thing about him was the fact that he was a spinner who used to bowl in the fisrt 15 overs (which are exclusively meant for pace bowlers, due to the field restrictions).

    Following in Dipak Patel’s footsteps is another New Zealander – Jeetan Patel who is in and out of the NZ side at a fairly regular basis these days.

  10. Harilal Shah captained the East African side in the first cricket World Cup in 1975. At that time, the East African team was a composite of the best players from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

    And he can probably still be found at the Main lounge of the Nairobi Gymkhana on Wednesday evenings. :)

  11. Traditionally, the West Indies team has had lots of players of Indian origin….who were usually 3rd or 4th geners.

    A few names that I remember are:

    Past: Rohan Kanhai Alvin Kallicharran Dinanath Ramnarine

    Present: Ramnaresh Sarwan Dinesh Ramdin Shivnarain Chanderpaul Daren Ganga Mahendra Nagamootoo Ravi Rampaul Ryan Ramdass

  12. Two English players (of desi origin) are currently playing a season domestic cricket in India (Rajasthan) – Vikram Solanki and Kabir Ali.

  13. Thanks for the post Preston. I am closely following your journey on desis in the diaspora. I would like to know more about Aasif Karim’s experience at Howard University. Did he talk much about his college days? Does he have any thoughts to share about African Americans and Kenyans?

  14. Looks like another pretty day in Nairobi by the looks of the pictures. Great office and family Mr. Karim, mzuri sana!! Also, I think the book idea a very good idea to jot down the history if possible.

  15. Kenya won two matches in 2003…

    Kenya actually fared much better in the 2003 World Cup. They won their group stage matches against Canada, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, losing only to South Africa and the West Indies. If I remember correctly, New Zealand refused to travel to Kenya for their group match for security reasons (punks), so Kenya was awarded the victory points. Canada was the only other non-test playing side against whom they played.

    Their victory in the Super Six round against Zimbabwe was enough to qualify them for the semi-finals, in which they lost to India. Linkage

    The New Zealand forfeit was unfortunate, because it gave some [stiff-upper-lipped, white, Brit/Aussie] commentators the opportunity they were looking for to rant on and on that Kenya didn’t deserve to be there. Anyone who saw Kenya play during that World Cup knew they deserved to be there. That team really proved that test-status (whether or not a country plays test cricket) means nothing when it comes to who can win an international one-day match. Go Kenya!

  16. Hi-thanks guys for your comments. My experience at Howard University and the US was great in the 80′s. I enjoyed my interaction with people from all over the world and the experience of playing top college tennis. There were different cultures and values between AfroAmericans and Kenyans- infact the there were different values ,accent and cultures among the various students from different continents-Africa Caribbean ,Europe and then the US.It was quite unique. I willl always cherish my time at Howard-infact every time I visit US,I make a point to visit DC/Howard.

  17. I met Asif as a teenager during his tennis days at Howard University. He and I also played cricket for the Metro Sports Club in Washignton, DC. Way back then I knew he had the talent to be a very good cricketer. We were included in the touring party of the Washington Cricket League touring Jamaica in 1984. After our first game in which Asif starred with both ball and bat, he had his own following to the next two games. He was the star of the tour. He averaged 40s with the bat and bowled 30 overs for 50 runs and 8 wickets! During and after the tour he was like our Amitab. They were following him all over the place. As some one who has been playing cricket organized cricket in Guyana and the USA for over 40 years, I can attest that Asif was the real deal. If he lived in the West Indies, without a doubt he would have played for the West Indies, he was that good. Even though we were not blood related, everywhere we went I was always asked if he was my son because we shared the same last name. We have known each other now for almost 25 years, and I must say one of the happiest days of my life was to see him upstage all the big names in the World Cup match Australia vs Kenya in South Africa. As a friend, confidant, mentor and sometimes coach may you have many happy years ahead.

    Fazal Karim Virgina, USA.

  18. Even though we were not blood related, everywhere we went I was always asked if he was my son because we shared the same last name. We have known each other now for almost 25 years, and I must say one of the happiest days of my life was to see him upstage all the big names in the World Cup match Australia vs Kenya in South Africa. As a friend, confidant, mentor and sometimes coach may you have many happy years ahead.

    Fantastic. Amen to that.

  19. Preston wrote: We figured that he was the first desi to captain a national team other than India in a world cup

    Imran Khan?! Jayasuriya?! Habib-ul-Bashar?!

  20. Enjoyed reading about you, your interesting life, and your talented family Aasif. Very inspiring. Good luck to you.

  21. Preston, my bad. I took desi as SA, you prolly meant Indian. Brown fob @11 has excellent list. Alvin Kalicharan from that list was part of West Indies team that won first two world cups. ’75, ’79. Sonny Ramadhin was the first desi from WI.

    Serious respect to Aasif Karim for Kenya’s ’03 performance.

  22. I bet Amitab couldnt ball left arm over like our hero Aasif.. Maybe the book should be followed by a movie where the star can play the role himself and use the height and deep voice to his advantage..hmmm.. maybe its the deep convincing voice that swayed umpires into giving all those L.B.W’s! Its an honour to know him.. Have learnt a lot from u and im sure will learn a lot more.. It’s the one-liner at the end of a long cricketing day that has a whole speech packed into it.. Thank You!!! Good Luck!! (and save me a small role in the film!!)

  23. Does anyone know of a desi who has played for Australia? The best I could come up with was Lisa Sthalekar, who is the Vice Captain of their Women’s side. Other than Australia, I think Desis have played for all other ICC members.

    Peace

  24. Playing with Aasif was am homour. We had some amazing times. With Aasif in the team, We always started on the winning team! In reply to Abbas’ comment – those L.B.W’s had a little bit to do with the deep voice but more to do with me shouting my head off from behind the wicket!! (haha- i’ll take the credit Aasif) Everything you have touched so far has turned to gold or turned on a pitch and produced a wicket! Good Luck for the future.

  25. Muj Khimji, a few memories with Aasif uncle: 1]Played my 1st game with him at the age of 15years against ruaraka we won with 8 wickets 2 spare.i couldnt sleep the previous nite due 2 toooo much xcitment. 2]After a serious losin streak in the 2006 season we managed to convince asif uncle to play with us. he reminded us what it felt like to win convincingly. i remember thinking when i walked in to join him at the crease ” im gonna make him run, he hasnt played for three years!” went home after a 99 run partnership in which he got 70, with soar legs and drenched t-shirt because he wouldnt allow me to stop running!! “AMITABH REALLY RUNS!!” cant wait to play again and add to my list of memories!! hope u have fixed the oakleys u left on ur fire-place mantle!

  26. @25 UberMetroMallu, Couple years back, there was an article by Peter Roebuck in which he identified a few desi school kids as future Oz all stars. It was some sort of reach-out initiative.

  27. Guyana’s Shivanrine Chanderpaul captained the West Indies team and recently resigned from the captaincy in April 2006, to make way for Brian Lara’s return.

  28. A very interesting article about someone who achieved great things for Kenyan cricket. Asif, will you be in Nairobi for the WCL – I believe you have done some commentary for ESPN before? If so, i’d be keen to make contact. The same goes for ANY other cricket players in Kenya. I would be very interested in your views on what can be done to help the game fulfil it’s potential in the country.

  29. Aasif Karim, the most talented, successful and dedicated cricketer Kenya has produced. I can confidently state that because I have seen Aasif blossom since he made his Kenyan debut against the newly independent Zimbabwe in 1980 (Aasif correct me if I am wrong). He went to Zimbabwe and played against Duncan Fletcher’s Zimbabwe (yes the present English Supremo was the first Zimbabwe captain?) and Aasif was the only Kenyan cricketer to come out with distinction as Kenya was hammered by what was the “Southern Rhodesia” side all the stalwarts that played in the strong South African state side tournament. The Flowers, the Houghtons and the Hick’s were not even in the Zimbabwe team yet. That’s how far Aasif goes. Since that tour Aasif has only looked upwards both in tennis and cricket culminating in the superb man-of the match against Australia. To have the best batsman in the world for a decade, Ricky Ponting all at sea with every delivery that he faced against Aasif is a testimony that had he been born in any Test playing country, Aasif would have gone places, I have no doubt. Having played with Aasif in the Kenyan National Cricket team in the 80’s and keeping wickets to Aasif’s bowling, I have seen him mesmerise many a batsmen with his guile variety and accuracy.
    I had the pleasure and honour of having Aasif and Mark Ramprakash, amongst others, play under my captaincy in club cricket in Nairobi and we duly won the league. What with the talent and ability at my disposal, the analogy was like Clive Lloyds West Indies when the result of most matches was predestined, it only mattered how severely we beat the opposition. Aasif has been utterly professional at his approach to life and sports. Likeable off the field but thoroughly competitive on it. Disciplined and organised in all facets, business, leisure, sports, social, family and always fun to be with.

    Finally I could write many pages of my knowledge of Aasif, but it would suffice for this site to wish Aasif the best in his future endeavours as he takes up his career in cricket commentating amongst his other interests. He has been a model human being that I will always admire.

  30. Aasif has made Kenya Cricket proud because of his talented performances and contributions for the welfare of the noble game at the National and also at the international level. Aasif Karim has always been a good sportsman on the field of play. Aasif Karim’s talented cricketing skills and valuable experience should be utilised by Cricket Kenya for the betterment of the game.

    Best wishes to Aasif and his family.

    Subhash Modi

  31. Its an honour to have played and faced in these era of the great spinners of Kenyan Cricket, Mr Aasif Karim. I would as much have loved to play along side him than in the receiving end!! But I guess I would not have learnt all those dancing steps around the wicket!!, well thats what he was good at…making batsmen dance all over with his amazing talent of spin bowling.

    I also believe that due to his commitment to tennis and residing in Mombasa during his pick years, we were lucky to have escaped his wrath!! The only respite I personally had when facing him was, whenever he beat me, all I would get is a cheeky smile and a pleasant giggle, well away from the sledging of Shane Warne (OBE Fame!!) or the war cries of Andre Nel.. such was the heart of this man.

    I will also cherish the memories of having trained besides him when we were both in the probables of the Kenya ICC squad for 1986 under Robin Boyd Moss. As a young Off Spinner myself those days, it was great to have trained with him and Harish Patel, one of the other great left arm spinner seen in Kenya cricket. And with these two great spinners in the probables,only a miracle would have helped me to make it in the final 16!!!! offcourse i couldnt. Well, i do not have any regrets about this, i was probably in the wrong era!!

    My word of advise to the cricketers of today, you have a role model in Aasif, I dont need to say anything more.

    My best wishes to him and his family.

  32. Coming from a cricket playing family based in Mombasa, Kenya, my dad Mohammed Raza Karim along with my uncle Aasif Karim, were no doubt the greatest inspirations for me to take up the game at a very young age. My dad represented the Kenya national team during the 70′s and 80′s and then watching Aasif Uncle play for Kenya also got me dreaming of emulating them one day and that started my journey in competitive cricket from the age of 13 to 19.

    In these years, I started out with the 2nd division team, then to the 1st division team and then eventually came through the ranks to represent my club side (Mombasa Jaffery Sports Club) in the Coast Cricket Association League and towards the end I was picked for the Coast Cricket Association touring squad to Seychelles in 2004 for a triangular tournament involving Mauritius and hosts Seychelles which we ended up winning. Along the way, I became the youngest player (15) to score a century in the CCA League (which made a regular name in the local weekly newspaper and the national newspaper a couple times), captained the club side and also made it to the try outs for the Kenya Under ’19′ team that was to play qualification games for the 2004 “Under 19″ World Cup in Bangladesh.

    Then of course came the decision to keep cricket a hobby and I then moved to Canada, where I am currently pursuing my further studies in Toronto. Looking back, was it not for my dad and Aasif Uncle and their constant guidance, I would have not enjoyed my cricketing days and played at the various domestic levels I did, or I may not have taken up the sport at all!

    Thank you Aasif Uncle, for everything including the jerseys:-) …I still get the thrill and goosebumps every time I put on the 1999 World Cup captain’s jersey! See you soon…

    P.S.: Go Man Utd Go! :P

  33. Aasif Uncle is not only a Great Sportsmen but a very good mentor and an inspiration to the youth. Knowing him and being on the same ground is like a dream that you never want to wakeup from. He is a good friend all and is always willing to lend an advice everywhere he goes. Aasif Uncle playing against you and with you is a dream come true for me. I have learnt lots from you and hope to learn more. Thank you for all you have done. (Bet BIG B did not know he had competition From “BIG K” back here)

  34. I was lucky enough to play against MR.ASIF KARIM when i used to play professionally for Kanbis Sports club, Nairobi for 3 yrs. Inspite of having played some of the top spinners in india in indian first class cricket for more than 11 years, i found no ease to play Mr. Karim when ever we played against each other.apart from cricket i was lucky to have some long chat with him after one of the game and i found a thorough gentleman in him with all professionalism of a top cricketer built in.it was a proud moment to see Mr. Karim getting man of the match award in one of the world cup games against the giant “Australia” few yrs back.I would luv to see Mr.karim getting some important roles through Kenya Criket to the ICC. I wish him and his family all the best, prakash bhatt, rajkot, india.

  35. Since I met Aasif in 1990, during the ICC tournament in Holland, we have always been in touch. Its good to see how someone can combine sports and a business carrier. Aasif is, in my opinion, one of the very few sportsman, who are not only excelling in their specialities on the pitch but also in there daily career. Its an honour to me to know him and to have him on my list of friends. A true sportsman.

  36. I have known Asif and his family from the time immemorial – say about 40 years.

    Asif’s father Yusuf Karim was a hard court tennis champion of Coast Province of Kenya for about quarter of a century.

    Asif has excelled equally well and has represented Kenya in tennis and has captained Kenya in cricket world cup.

    Both father and son are admirable sportsmen ever willing to help. Our fraternity is very proud about them and both are admired on the field for talent and pleasantness off the field.

    Asgar Kassam – Ex sports writer in DAILY NATION and The Standard newspapers. Nairobi, Kenya

  37. I have known Karim family for many years and we were neighbours in Mombasa. I know Aasif since his childhood. In those days (1978/9) the media was not as advanced as is today and I remember Aasif, his brother Aarif and myself listening to cricket commentary (India/Pakistan series) and would curse the passing cars as the noise would blurr our radio.

    And then those simple but very enjoyable visits to ‘Mamadi’ for kebabs and ‘Abbasi Cafe’ for bbq’s and lime barfi (sorbets).

    To me, Aasif comes out as a very organised person. He has kept a subtle balance between his sporting career, business career and social life where you see the real Aasif, loving and caring and a humble person. Much before taking the Aussies for a ‘spin’, he also had a similar feat. Playing for Kenya Combined against visiting Indian XI at Coast Gymkhana,Mombasa, Aasif removed Vengsarkar off 2nd ball, took Roger Binny cheaply and later removed the legendary Kapil Dev.

    He had that nagging accuracy. The opponents would plan to play off his 10 overs and then try and take on other bowlers. He had a great impact on his teams and his presence contributed to their success. A calm and cool exterior conceals a very positive and determined, but a very friendly person. Aasif was so talented that had he been born in a test playing nation, I am positive that he would have played test cricket.

    Though his roots are ‘desi’, he is a true and a proud Kenyan, having captained and represented Kenya at cricket and also tennis.Perhaps that would be the only instance where a father (Yusufbhai) and son (Aasif) have represented their countries at two major sports.

    I wish Aasif success in writing his book and may he prosper in every aspect of his life. Our fond memories of life in Mombasa will always remain with me to cherish.

    Dear Aasif:Best regards and warm wishes to you and your family from my family and I.

    Zulfikar Fazel, Leicester, England.

  38. One of the happiest times a professor can have is seeing his student become successful. Reading about Aasif’s cricket and tennis success make me proud. Reading about his business success makes me even more proud. The greatest satisfaction comes from reading words from his friends and family like friendly, mentor, gentleman, kind, inspiration,great sportsman, outstanding professionalism, pleasantness, loving and humble.

    I am pleased to be able to say that Aasif was my student and friend at Howard University.

  39. Aasif, I am very proud of your achievements in cricket. As you know we were big rivals in tennis from juniors to our last match when George Mason played Howard in the US. It has almost 20 years and it is great although you have been successful in cricket that you basically are the same person you were when we were playing under 13s. It was a thrill to come home and turn on Fox Sports World and see you being interviewed based on your performance in South Africa. I had to look several times at the TV to make sure this was the Asif Karim I knew.

    Regards

    Dele Young

  40. I first met Aasif in 1974 when my wife and I visited Mombasa from the USA.He was a little curious boy even back then. His father Yusuf is a great friend of mine from our old tennis days in Uganda and Kenya.Naturally when Aasif graduated from high school in Kenya,It was automatic that he came to Palm beach community college in Florida on a tennis scholarship.He excelled in tennis at the community college level in the USA and after graduation,he had a pick of four years university around the country.The rest as we say is History. I am very proud fo Aasif and honored to call him SON.My wife and I wish him continued sucess in life. Hamid.