The Curious Case of Zafar Gohar
Having earned his only Test cap in 2021, Zafar Gohar continues to strive to add to the tally.
Ever since most of us have truly followed Test cricket, slow left-arm spinners have been key to Pakistan’s success in the format. You could argue that their role is often analogous to a supporting actor in a movie. Think of Abdul Rehman, who very quietly made his mark as he acted second fiddle to Saeed Ajmal. Years later, Zulfiqar Babar did the same, complimenting Yasir Shah beautifully.
Zulfiqar Babar’s last Test appearance was in 2016, as Pakistan opted to replace him with Mohammad Nawaz, who has just managed to feature in 6 Tests in about 6 years. In retrospect, the lack of slow left-arm spinners can be justified of late. Ever since Pakistan have played their home series in Pakistan, they’ve somewhat ditched the ploy of playing two spinners, something that came into prominence under Misbah ul Haq.
Lately, however, given the surfaces, two spinners have often played. One eminent feature of the red-ball side in the last two years has been Nauman Ali. On the back of a stellar 2019/20 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy campaign, the 36-year-old was handed his debut in 2020. To sugarcoat it anyhow, things haven’t gone to plan. The veteran has struggled to make a mark, specifically in the year 2022.
Right, so do Pakistan really have other options? Enter Zafar Gohar, someone at the peak of his career. Interestingly, pre-2021, Zafar had below-par red ball numbers, although he was the Player of the Tournament in the aforementioned 2019/20 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Guess what? His only Test cap came in January 2021, in New Zealand, where even the greatest spin bowlers have struggled to make an impact. Zafar went wicketless and managed 71 runs in the game, as Pakistan suffered an innings loss. The aftermath of the series saw Zafar make way for Nauman Ali.
Ever since, Zafar’s exploits with the red ball have been noteworthy, to say the least. In the 2021 County Championship for Gloucestershire, the 27-year-old impressed immediately, leaving an impact in his short stint. He picked up 20 wickets in just four outings and impressed in the field. On the back of his showings, the left-armer was offered a contract the following year, which he obviously obliged to.
Now, arguably, that isn’t enough to warrant selection in the Test side. Howbeit, Zafar has done reasonably well in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy too. Not long ago, the 27-year-old picked up his 17th First Class 5-for while featuring for Central Punjab. In the last two years in the competition, Zafar’s numbers make for decent reading, more than decent if you consider the context of the numbers. Among the left-arm orthodox options available, Zafar is perhaps the most rational choice. Nauman Ali has clearly had a horrid run of form and is 36. Kashif Bhatti, who was once touted to play for Pakistan, too has failed to make a mark this season and is towards the latter part of his career. Ali Usman was prolific last year but has had an absolute shocker in this campaign. Zafar, on the other hand, has impressed in his three outings, with 13 wickets at 27.00, including two 5-fers.
In the 2022 County Championship season, Zafar continued to notch up wickets. His batting, too, came along nicely, scoring four fifties in the campaign. His spin bowling, however, was world-class, reflected by his numbers – 47 wickets at a tad over 28 apiece. Besides, Zafar was also handed his debut in the Royal London One Day Cup, where he starred with both bat and ball.
So, what exactly could Zafar do? Clearly, he would be a perfect fit to bowl in tandem with the exciting Abrar Ahmed. Arguably, Zafar offers a long-term option, too, given he’s 27 and has age on his side. Spinners usually get better as they age, and Zafar has now gained enough experience to understand his game while still being young enough to be a long-term investment. Going by recent outings, he has shown promise with the bat and is blooming with the ball as he continues to play red-ball cricket.
If Zafar ends up with a sole Test cap, it would be a real tragedy. However, for someone who infamously overslept and missed his flight to make his Test debut in 2015, it would perhaps be more ironic than tragic. Pakistan’s Test selections over the last couple of years have been tacky, but perhaps they should turn to Zafar before it’s too late.