Karachi, Aug 18: Pakistan all-rounder Anwar Ali, who once ironed socks for a living as a teenage factory labourer, may have finally found his feet in international cricket after years of unfulfilled promise.
Ali smashed a 17-ball 46 with four towering sixes and three fours to help Pakistan clinch a last-gasp over win in the second Twenty20 against Sri Lanka in Colombo in their recently concluded tour, prompting fans to hail him as the second coming of talismanic all-rounder Shahid Afridi.
"I am thankful to Almighty who helped me reach this point," Ali, 27, told AFP. "My life was once very tough as I used to work in a sock-making factory but I clung to the dream of playing for Pakistan."
Ali migrated as a child from the small village of Zaka Khel in the militancy-wracked Swat Valley that is also home to Nobel peace prize-winning activist Malala Yousafzai.
His family was amongst those who left after Islamist extremists began a campaign to rule the valley under their harsh interpretation of Sharia law.
The family made their base in a rundown industrial area of Karachi, where Ali, who lost his father when he was still young, began working as a child labourer for a meagre 150 rupees ($1.50 in current terms) per day.
"Those were very tough days, we came to Karachi in search of peace and safety and as one of the boys of the family I was required to earn and not play," said the broad-built Ali.
While on the way to the factory, Ali would watch boys play in the street, spurring his dreams of one day making it to the national stage.
"I requested my boss to put me in the night shift so that I could play cricket in the day and he very kindly obliged," recalled Ali.
Ali got his lucky break when he was spotted by local coach Azam Khan, who he now calls his mentor and guide.
"I found him enormously talented and asked him to come for the trials," recalled Khan. "Initially he excused himself because he would have lost his daily wages in case the trials ran later than scheduled. So, I promised to pay him the 150 rupees if he comes.
"The next day he came and he conquered the trials and everyone was amazed at his bowling," said Khan. "But... I couldn't keep paying him. Luckily Ali got a job in the Karachi Electric team and from there he never looked back."
Ali said: "My late father was against my playing cricket but his opinion changed once I made my mark and started earning from it." AFP