Central Contracts and the Baffling Case of Faheem Ashraf
Despite being a regular member of Pakistan’s Test side, the all-rounder didn’t get a red-ball central contract.
On Friday, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced the men’s central contract lists for 2022-23. As a step that can be coined revolutionary, certain players have been segregated as red-ball or white-ball specialists. The player pool, too, has expanded. Thirty-three players are now contracted with the PCB, including seven emerging players.
With the addition of thirteen players compared to the previous contracts list, the PCB have attempted to reward domestic performers who have excelled consistently. On the other hand, however, are a couple of shocking sackings, including that of all-rounder Faheem Ashraf.
In July last year, Faheem Ashraf was placed in category B of the central contract list. In retrospect, it made sense. The 28-year-old had enjoyed a satisfactory year in the whites, starring with bat and ball under crunch situations. Historically, Faheem has always shown his grit under pressure, especially with the bat. On his Test match debut versus Ireland in Malahide, Pakistan were reduced to 159 for 6 on a green top. Faheem, nevertheless, showed his character as he scored a rapid 83, easing Pakistan out of trouble.
After a couple of average tours, the all-rounder was left out from the side. He was slotted back in versus New Zealand in late 2020. On return at the Bay Oval, he bowled tight lines, picking up a wicket as well. With Pakistan struggling at 80 for 6, the all-rounder strolled in to bat. He looked at ease versus the short ball, frequently scoring square of the wicket. After a tidy partnership with Mohammad Rizwan, Faheem continued to stamp his authority. He ended with 91 from 134 balls, giving Pakistan a respectable total on the board.
Faheem continued to chip in with the bat, scoring handy runs throughout the Test tour. Pakistan’s next assignment was to host a star-studded South Africa at home. Although Faheem was not required to bowl a lot in Karachi, he played a significant role with the bat. The left-hander scored a stylish 64, dominating the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje in the process. In Rawalpindi, the 28-year-old was dominant yet again, scoring an incredibly valuable 78* as he batted with the tail to give Pakistan an advantage. His services with the ball were scarcely required, although he did dismiss Faf du Plessis in the first innings.
On the back of his terrific run, Faheem was awarded a central contract. It was almost as if Pakistan had unearthed the missing piece to their Test team – a genuine pace bowling all-rounder they had longed for.
Faheem did reasonably well in the Caribbean, too, often picking up key wickets and chipping in with the bat. He picked up four wickets at under 30 and scored handy runs in low-scoring encounters. At the end of 2021, Pakistan toured Bangladesh to play two Tests. Faheem batted just once in the entire series, scoring a vital 38. He bowled 22 overs in the entire series, as the spinners were mainstays on the turning tracks.
On Australia’s historic tour of Pakistan, Faheem only featured in the Karachi Test, which was drawn. He was injured for the first Test and benched for the last in favor of a five-bowler combination, which proved disastrous with Pakistan suffering lower-order collapses in both innings.
His case, undoubtedly, is perplexing. The 28-year-old only featured in a total of five Tests after earning his contract in 2021, where he batted on just seven occasions. His bowling came along nicely, with eight scalps at 31.75. For a fifth bowler tasked to keep it tidy, that is more than just decent. Moreover, his fielding is top-notch, as the all-rounder is often seen placed in the slips.
So, what went wrong for Faheem Ashraf? His career numbers make for good reading as well. That being said, his numbers fail to paint the actual picture anyway. His impact and contribution to the red ball side are invaluable. Perhaps the management feels that the all-rounder has been ineffective with the ball. That, however, is untrue because he has hardly ever been used in important phases. In spite of that, his numbers are satisfactory, picking up some important wickets. His role is also essential in a team with young pacers like Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah with no designated workhorse.
Frankly, his axing does not make much sense. The all-rounder has been included in the squad to tour Sri Lanka and is the only member of the touring party without a central contract. Faheem’s white-ball showings may not warrant praise, but his red-ball displays are certainly worthy of a contract. A demotion in his contract category would have perhaps made more sense. Knowing Faheem, though, he will certainly be eager to get a go versus Sri Lanka and prove his mettle again.