GeneralAbbas Afridi, the Only Silver Lining of This Experiment-Laden Series

Abbas Afridi, the Only Silver Lining of This Experiment-Laden Series

Gaddafi Stadium has served up belters recently. No team was able to defend a score of less than 200 in this year’s PSL.

Thursday night was no different – a perfect pitch with true bounce and no assistance off the surface for bowlers. New Zealand, fresh from a thumping win in Rawalpindi, capitalised on the conditions. The opening pair of Tim Robinson and Tom Blundell took apart Pakistan bowlers one by one, smashing 44 off the first four overs.

By the end of the powerplay, and with the Blundell back in the pavilion, the Kiwis were well-placed at 62 for one. Though Imad Wasim dried up the flow of boundaries from his end, Usama Mir, playing his first match this series, was hit regularly as New Zealand strolled to 93 for one at the halfway stage.

With nine wickets in hand, the scoring rate touching 10 an over, and the otherwise Lahore’s raucous crowd silent, the tourists were all set for a slog-fest.

Babar Azam, after the strategic timeout, threw the ball to Abbas Afridi for his second over. Abbas is not a conventional fast bowler. Perhaps they don’t come anymore. He is a savvy T20 bowler who relies on his variations and sneaks them in with great guile. He has enough pace to faze the batters with searing flings in the middle of the pitch, but his astute deployment of back-of-the-hand deliveries and cutters leave batting lineups unnerved.

This was Abbas’ second over the innings. He had bowled in the powerplay – the fourth over of the innings – and the right-arm pacer was smashed for 11 runs. Powerplay bowling is not really Abbas’ forte. It is the middle overs and death where he flourishes, and despite conceding two boundaries in his last over, Abbas was confident that he is yet to unleash his best.

So, with Pakistan desperately searching for a breakthrough again, Abbas had to deliver against the same opposition. He followed Dean Foxcroft as the batter shuffled towards the leg side. A leg-bye brought Robinson, who now batted on 51 off 35, on strike. Robinson had never made it to the 50-run mark prior in his career. Now, he threatened to go big. There’s no better time to take the pace off than when a batter is looking to smash you out of the park. Sensing that urge, Abbas trapped Robinson with a loopy full toss that he holed out to long-on.

There was no animated celebration. He lifted his arms towards the sky with a gentle smile. He did not run towards Iftikhar Ahmed, who took the catch but rather moved towards him with a leisurely stroll, absorbing the exuberant cheers, satisfied with his design.

He has been here before! He has torn apart partnerships and brought back his team into the contests when it seemed all over. Remember that double strike in Rawalpindi last month to remove Islamabad United’s Shadab Khan and Azam Khan to scythe wide open the game, or how in Auckland, in his maiden T20I, he bamboozled Finn Allen and Kane Williamson with the back of the hand deliveries?

Babar would return to Abbas again. This time in the penultimate over with Michael Bracewell firmly set and Jimmy Neesham, one of the most destructive batters at death, accompanying him at the other end.

Nineteenth is one of the most critical overs of a T20 innings. When setting a target, these six balls serve as an impetus for the last six.

Abbas started the over with back-to-back slower ones that added a single each to the batting side’s total before hitting the deck hard. With only five runs coming off the first four balls, Abbas then had Bracewell caught on long off and Josh Clarkson bowled with a perfect yorker.

While his first six balls leaked 11, his next 12 allowed New Zealand only nine at the cost of three wickets.

Whether Pakistan utilized him effectively by holding him between the 11th and 19th overs is something to ponder. After all, in his T20 career since 2021, Abbas has bowled at an economy of 7.96 in the middle overs (7-16), and his 22 scalps have come at 23.27 runs per dismissals. His numbers in the last four overs are even better as his average runs per wicket drop to 15.23, and he takes a wicket every eighth ball. He has 26 wickets in this phase.

In the recent PSL, Abbas took 13 wickets, all outside the powerplay. In the middle overs, his economy rate stood at a brilliant eight an over, and his eight wickets were at an average of 18.12. In the overs 17-20, Abbas took five wickets at an average of 17 and had an economy rate of 10.62.

Abbas truly announced his arrival in top-flight cricket last year when he ended as the highest wicket-taker in the PSL 2023. Though he was not among those breakout stars selected for the subsequent three-T20I series against Afghanistan in Sharjah, his debut remained on the cards. That it took him almost a year to play his first T20I was due to a halt in T20 cricket because of the ODI World Cup in India.

Before any major tournaments, teams finalize their preparations by giving longer runs to their well-defined and already-established combinations; Pakistan hope to stumble on promising young talents.

What was supposed to be a rather dull and one-sided series between a full-strength Pakistan and a depleted New Zealand side has been an agony for the Pakistan fans. Despite all the promises of rotation policy and experimentation, it was never supposed to turn out like this. But, here we are – the visitors, despite their mainstays playing the IPL across the border, leading the five-match series 2-1 with one match to go.

But, in Abbas, who entered this game 2-27 in three and now has 10 T20I wickets in five matches at an average of under 13, Pakistan have stumbled upon that very talent they look for ahead of the big competitions.

Perhaps he is the only silver lining of this experiment-laden series.


The author

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, conse ctetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonum nibhie. Aenean sollici tudin, lorem auci elit consequat ipsutis sem niuis sed odio sit amet nibh vulputate cursus.


At Grassroots Cricket, we give paramount importance to feedback from our viewers. We value your opinions, and in case of suggestions or business inquiries, feel free to get in touch with us.

61-A Main Boulevard Gulberg, Lahore