Neil Russell will probably never forget the day he first met Imad Wasim two years ago at Belfast City Airport.
On a typically damp and dismal spring day in Northern Ireland, the Pakistani professional, seemingly oblivious to the inclement weather, was sporting a pair of sunglasses and his first words to the then Instonians captain were nothing if not confident.
“When I collected Imad from the airport, out came this young Pakistani lad, glasses on (it was raining outside and freezing), and the first thing he said to me was ‘Skipper, I will play for Pakistan sooner rather than later, I’m just letting you know’. Instantly I thought ‘oh here we go’, but he was right,” said Russell.
Little more than two years on and Wasim’s meteoric rise is continuing apace. On Saturday, Pakistan might have lost the second One-Day International to England at Lord’s but Wasim was a stand-out performer. Selected mainly as a left-arm spinner, he demonstrated, as NCU watchers will testify, his raw batting ability, hitting an unbeaten 63 from 70 balls to ensure the tourists had something respectable to defend.
Later he took two wickets to add to the five for 14 he took against Ireland at Malahide. He also refused to shirk from a confrontation with England’s fast bowlers.
Thinking back to 2014, and Instonians’ historic Premier League title triumph, Russell remembers the then 25-year-old taking a while to settle in.
“If the truth be told, it took Imad a few weeks to settle,” he explained. “The lads couldn’t figure him out straight away. Nor could I if I’m being honest, and I’ve plenty of experience of dealing with different characters. I think it was around three weeks into the season and everything changed. Imad ‘bought in’, his attitude was incredible, and his work with the young lads on the team and his willingness to help and encourage were superb. The guys were hooked by him. Cocky? Yes. Self assured? Most definitely. Team man? 100 per cent!! And the team loved that.”
His statistics weren’t spectacular. He took 21 wickets at 19.38 and made 601 runs at 42, but a wonderful 114 against CIYMS changed the course of that season.
“Immy played with a swagger, his skill sets as a slow left-arm spinner were a joy to watch. He figured batsmen out very quickly, and possessed one the best arm balls I’ve ever seen. Also, his innings against CI went a long way in helping the club secure the first outright league title since the 60’s,” Russell added.
“An astute cricketer, with a very sharp cricket brain, he was a brilliant support to myself, and always showed me the upmost respect. Even now when we communicate via message on whatsapp, he will start the convo with ‘Good evening, skipper’. To see Immy go on and do what he has done with his career since leaving Instonians has been awesome to see, but was it a shock to any of us who played a season with him? None whatsoever. I think we all knew he was destined for international cricket. Some players just posses an aura, they have ‘it’. They have the X factor. Immy had it in abundance.”
Russell is meeting Wasim in Manchester next week but warns: “I can’t wait to catch up with him. In saying that, I’d better dust off the wallet, he may be an international and CPL cricketer these days, but there’s still no chance of him buying dinner!”