A teenage Edinburgh cricketer has embarked on the second leg of a round- the-world trip in a winter of sporting exploration that he hopes will help him achieve full international honours.
Former Drummond High School student Harris Aslam, 18, who plays for Carlton, is now part of a Scottish delegation of five players at the Ben Williams Academy in Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, having recently spent the early part of his gap year training at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore, Pakistan, where he has family connections.
Harris, a leg-spinning all-rounder, received tips from Mushtaq Ahmed in Lahore, who was part of his country’s 1992 World Cup-winning team, as well as being top wicket taker in the English County Championship with Sussex in successive seasons. “The first few times I went to the National Academy I was bowling alongside (Pakistan spinner) Saeed Ajmal as he was doing work with Mushtaq Ahmed on his bowling action,” said Harris. “Whilst I was bowling, Mushtaq had a look at my action and gave me a few tips and techniques.
“It was an honour as he had worked with the likes of Graeme Swann and other spinners within the England set-up. It really doesn’t get any better than that.”
During a brief stop-over in Edinburgh between trips, Harris said: “The best experience of my life was going to Pakistan because I learned so much about cricket and myself. The attitude from the players there was that when they find out you have come from a different country they raise their game.
“Their attitude is, ‘We are going to show you how tough we play’ and that toughened me as well. You had to prove to them you could play cricket, otherwise they would just use you.
“A lot of people really didn’t know where Scotland was and you would have to say repeatedly it is next to England, but I hope I gave a good impression.
“I played for the Academy of Cricketing Excellence, known as ACE, as well as Ghalib Sports Club.
“At ACE I played my first match under lights, bowling with a large crowd watching. When you take a wicket, loads of people start celebrating and it was unreal. I felt like I was playing international cricket and the team went on to reach the Twenty20 final, which took place just after I had to leave.
“Playing for Ghalib in the longer form of the game, I had the pleasure of finishing off a win with a six out of the ground – probably my best-ever moment in cricket.”
His trip was arranged through a friendship between his dad, Akeel, and Shahid Aslam, a former professional in the Edinburgh area and now a coach with the Pakistan team.
“Shahid came to play in Edinburgh and stayed with my dad, who had set up the Pakistan Association. They’ve remained friends.
“When I was five my dad began taking me to watch him play for Carlton and, aged ten, I joined the club’s youth section.
“I’ve had first-team games for Carlton, but have yet to take a top league wicket. That is my ambition for 2015 along with helping Scotland Under-19s qualify for next winter’s World Cup in Bangladesh.”
Harris, already capped by Scotland at under-15 and under-17 levels, will return home from New Zealand on April 1 determined that his experiences before studying software engineering in Edinburgh will help fuel a desire to become a cricketing Saltire.
“I definitely saw improvements in both my batting and bowling while in Pakistan and to play for Scotland is an ultimate aim along with gaining a county contract in England.”
Harris is being accompanied on his current trip to New Zealand by Carlton colleague Chayank Gosein, as well as Heriot’s pair Mark Watt and Ryan Brown. Scott Cameron from Forfarshire is also there.
“In Pakistan I really had to work things out for myself a lot of the time and that was a big help,” he said. “It will be different having colleagues around in New Zealand, but the big thing is to come back and nail down that spot in the Carlton team during the pre-season matches then go on to win some trophies in 2015.”