Jeff Thomson was impressed with him. “He looks very promising to me; he has good pace,” the Aussie fast bowling legend had told this writer a couple of years ago at Krishnagiri, Wayanad, where he had been conducting a camp for Kerala’s pace bowlers.

He was talking about K. M. Asif, who suddenly found himself in the limelight on Sunday after being bought by Chennai Super Kings for Rs. 40 lakh, though he hasn’t made his First Class debut yet. And it truly is rags to riches story for the 24-year-old from Edavanna, a village in Malappuram district.

He was sponsored by the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) for four years while he trained under Biju George at Thiruvananthapuram. “The KCA had taken care of my accommodation and food, as the conditions back home were not that good,” Asif told Sportstar . “I would not have reached this far in cricket if not for the support from the KCA.”

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The right-arm pacer is also grateful to Sanju Samson, the explosive batsman who has been picked up by Rajasthan Royals for Rs. 8 crore. “Sanju had helped me get trials with a few other IPL teams and has always encouraged me,” said Asif. “He was one of the first to tell me that my pace was above average.”

But, it was only during the recent South Zone Twenty20 championship in Andhra recently that he himself discovered how quick he was. “It was a pleasant surprise to learn that I had clocked something like 144 kmph against Goa,” he said. “I was fortunate that the match was being beamed live as people could notice that I was capable of bowling quick. It may have even helped me bag this contract in the IPL.”

He said he was looking forward to sharing the room with the likes of M. S. Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Murali Vijay, Ravindra Jadeja, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina and Dwayne Bravo. “These are the players I have watched on television,” he said. “Like any Indian cricketer, the IPL has always been a dream.”

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But, during his school days he was dreaming of becoming a footballer, like almost every kid in Malappuram, which is known for its passion for the beautiful game and has produced several international players. “It was after joining the GV Raja Sports School in Thiruvananthapuram that I began to take cricket seriously; till 15, football was my focus,” he said. “Though I didn’t achieve much in age-group tournaments, I could travel with the Ranji team for five matches last year and was part of the squad for the entire season this year. That helped a lot, as I could work with a lot with men like Sandeep Warrier, a bowler I admire.”

He is also glad that as many as six Kerala players have earned IPL contracts this year. Basil Thampi and Sachin Baby (Sunrisers Hyderabad), M. D. Nidheesh (Mumbai Indians) M. S. Midhun (Rajasthan Royals) and Sanju are the others.