How can Pakistan optimally develop its fast-bowling depth?
With lots of cricket being played in all 3 formats, workload management will be crucial for fast-bowlers to prosper.
Before this year’s Pakistan Super League, Azhar Mahmood, in an interview with Grassroots Cricket, said that Pakistan should look to prepare different sets of fast-bowlers for Test cricket and limited-overs cricket in the coming years. Is it necessary, and if yes, how can it be done?
Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hasan Ali, Pakistan’s premier pace-bowlers, have seen a steep rise in their workloads in recent times. The number of overs bowled by these two is much higher than other Pakistan bowlers.
Since Shaheen’s debut in international cricket, 11 fast bowlers have bowled more than 1000 overs across formats, and the 22-year-old left-arm pacer is sixth on that list. Shaheen is right up there with some of the most eminent fast-bowling workhorses in the world in terms of high workloads.
Most Overs in International Cricket Since Shaheen’s Debut (Pacers)
|Shaheen Shah Afridi
Hasan Ali is another bowler whose workload management is discussed a lot because of his all-format prowess. Hasan’s recent injury fallouts can, in fact, be attributed to being overburdened and his workload not being managed adequately.
The question then arises: Should Shaheen and Hasan be limited to one or, at max, two formats in order to properly manage their workloads? Or, differently put, is Pakistan utilizing the alternate fast-bowling resources efficiently even if Shaheen and Hasan’s relatively higher workloads are not a problem? There are promising speedsters like Shahnawaz Dahani, Mohammad Wasim Jr., and Naseem Shah waiting in the wings to be called upon on a more regular basis.
Naseem Shah is one of the brightest prospects in Pakistan’s fast-bowling reserves. He was introduced to the international set-up at a very tender age of 16 during Pakistan’s tour of Australia in 2019. A month later, he became the second-youngest bowler to take a five-wicket haul in a Test match, and three months after that, Naseem became the youngest bowler to take a hat-trick in the format. He has started to come of age in red-ball cricket and showed signs of it in the recently concluded home Test series against Australia. Naseem’s white-ball potential often goes under the radar, too. Playing in different franchise cricket tournaments, Naseem has honed his skillset for T20 cricket, and he has been extremely impressive in the last 18 months or so. Is it time Pakistan hand him his maiden caps for limited-overs cricket?
|National T20 Cup 21
|Since Sept. 2021
Pakistan can potentially prepare Naseem as a new-ball option for the upcoming ICC T20 World Cup in Australia, given his powerplay exploits in this year’s PSL. Naseem was the second-highest wicket-taker among local bowlers in powerplay overs in PSL 2022. In recent times, Pakistan have utilized the likes of Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz as new-ball options, which may not be as effective a ploy Down Under later this year. Therefore, playing Naseem in a four-pronged pace attack where he can take the new ball from the other end could be a fairly decent tactic in those conditions.
Mohammad Hasnain is another bowler who has frequently been part of Pakistan’s pace-bowling reserves since his debut in white-ball cricket in 2019. He was part of Pakistan’s squad during the 2019 Cricket World Cup, and just four months after his T20I debut, Hasnain became the youngest bowler to take a hat-trick in the format. The 22-year-old made a name for himself in overseas T20 competitions such as the Caribbean Premier League and the Big Bash League.
It was, in fact, in the latter league’s most recent edition that Hasnain was found to have an illegal action and was consequently banned from bowling in international cricket. Since then, the right-arm pacer has been working on remodeling his action, and we will have to wait and see whether that affects certain aspects of his bowling, such as the slingy-ness in his action or the sheer pace he used to generate. It will be a big plus for Pakistan if Hasnain manages to find his bowling mojo of old with a remodeled action.
Hasan Ali’s forte was taking wickets in the middle overs, and with him now going through a prolonged lean patch, no other Pakistani fast bowler has taken more than five wickets in the middle overs in T20Is since 2021. Pakistan should be looking to develop another middle-overs enforcer for the shortest format, and they unearthed a talented right-arm quick through the PSL not so long ago.
Shahnawaz Dahani is someone who fits that role perfectly with his height and the ability to bowl those hard lengths at a rapid pace. Dahani was the highest wicket-taker in his maiden PSL season, and out of his 17 wickets, 10 came during the middle overs. He can be given an extended run in bilateral T20Is to gauge whether he is able to replicate his brilliant performances in the international arena.
Mohammad Wasim Jr.
Mohammad Wasim Jr. is one of the rawest talents on this list who is rising through the ranks with his all-round ability. With his slingy bowling action, he naturally gets the ball to tail in, and this movement gets more profound when there is reverse swing on offer. He is also a wonderful executor of yorkers which can be hard to dig out, let alone hit, because of the slant he gets into the right-handed batsmen.
Wasim is also more than a handy bat in the lower-middle order. The general perception about his batting might be that he is someone who relies on his funky scoops or is more of a slogger. However, in his debut first-class match, Wasim batted for more than an hour against Northern on a Day 4 pitch to save the match. He ended on 18*(59) and got 11 points for his team. He can bat for longer stints, if necessary, but he lacks the experience. Combined with his ability to bowl at the death, Wasim can potentially be Pakistan’s long-term all-round option in limited-overs cricket.
Other Fast Bowlers
Besides the pacers mentioned in this list, others are waiting in the wings and coming through the system. Young pacers like Zaman Khan, Arshad Iqbal, Mohammad Umar, Akif Javed, and many more are still rising through the structure. Then there are the veterans like Wahab Riaz and Imran Khan sr., who have been consistently performing in different domestic tournaments in the hope of another shot at international cricket. Of course, we haven’t mentioned Haris Rauf, who has been at the core of Pakistan’s white-ball bowling resources and has been a significant performer since his debut.
Pakistan has about 4-5 Test fast-bowlers in the current set-up: Shaheen Shah Afridi, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah, and Faheem Ashraf. Test cricket is very different from limited-overs cricket in that a bowler normally takes more time to develop in this format properly. The likes of Shaheen, Hasan, and Abbas have been at the helm of Pakistan’s pace-bowling in Tests in recent years. Adding Naseem into the fold as a regular and giving him more chances to develop and perform at the Test level will offer Pakistan another dimension going forward.
In limited-overs cricket, most of the bowlers mentioned above have represented Pakistan in one format or another. What Pakistan can do to give them more exposure is to occasionally test them in bilateral series against relatively weaker oppositions. With a three-match ODI home series against the West Indies followed by an upcoming away tour of the Netherlands consisting of 3 ODIs, Pakistan can tinker a bit with their best-possible playing XI to give some of these promising pacers a platform to kickstart their ODI careers.
However, the other angle to this is that Pakistan has not featured in many ODIs since the last World Cup. With next year’s showpiece event looming ever so close, Pakistan would ideally want to give as much game time to their first-choice players as possible. This, then, is a trade-off that they would need to keep in consideration while preparing for the next mega-event. However, there is still enough room to experiment to develop the reserves and give a good number of matches to the premier players to build towards finalizing a solid pool of players.