Hits and misses: Which of Pakistan’s new players popped and which flopped against Afghanistan?
Pakistan blooded several international cricket newbies in their T20I series against Afghanistan and ended up losing the series 2-1.
Following the conclusion of the 2023 PSL, the selection committee decided to leave some of the regulars in Pakistan’s T20I squad out of the series in the UAE to allow them time to recover after the tournament, which got over less than a week before the Afghanistan series. This meant that Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Fakhar Zaman and Haris Rauf were not selected for the three-match tour.
In their place, some of the outstanding performers from the PSL were called up to the national side. These included Saim Ayub, who hit five half-centuries in the tournament, and fast-bowling revelation Ihsanullah. Azam Khan also returned to international cricket for the first time in two years, having only played two T20Is previously. In all, four players made their T20I debuts in the series with differing levels of success.
Relatively unknown before the 2023 PSL, Ihsanullah’s rise has been rapid over the past few months. He became the 24th player to take a wicket with their first ball in T20I cricket, snaring Ibrahim Zadran in the first match of the series. Two balls later, he claimed his second wicket, with Gulbadin Naib becoming his second victim. He finished the series as the leading wicket-taker across both sides.
Perhaps his most exciting moment of the series came in the final match when he bowled an electric 11th over, in which he took two wickets and bowled Najibullah Zadran a fearsome bouncer hitting him in the throat. Najibullah subsequently retired hurt after wearing the 91 mph delivery.
There is reason to be cautious from Ihsanullah’s series. On some occasions he leaked runs on pitches that looked difficult to score off. But, with Shaheen set to return alongside Rauf and Naseem Shah, he looks to be an exciting addition to Pakistan’s blistering pace attack.
Until the final match in Sharjah, Ayub looked set to be included in the ‘flop’ category. He scored 17 off 15 in the first game before getting a two-ball duck in the second. But, in the final game, he showed why he will be worth persevering with. After two early wickets fell, he formed the backbone of Pakistan’s recovery along with Abdullah Shafique.
Ayub demonstrated the smoothness and class that had excited onlookers in the PSL, scything good-looking boundaries and negotiating Rashid Khan. Although he fell one short of an excellent maiden half-century, that innings should be enough for those not already enamoured with the 20-year-old to take notice.
Although Babar and Rizwan will return to the T20I side for the next series, Ayub offers something different. At the top of the order, he has more than a full range of shots, and scores quicker than both of Pakistan’s mainstays at the top of the T20I order. Though he has not shown enough to demand a re-gig of the opening lineup yet, he may have done enough to find a spot somewhere else in Pakistan’s lineup.
Tahir finished the series with a high score of 16 and a strike rate of less than 100. While he looked promising until he was dismissed in the first match, a 23-ball 13 in the second game left a lot to be desired. No Pakistan batter who played all three matches in the series batting in the top eight scored their runs at a pace slower Tahir.
With the pressure he put on those around him to score and his failure to stay in long enough to make up for a slow starting rate, it is hard to see many positives coming from Tahir’s debut international series.
No one bowled more overs and took fewer wickets in the series than Zaman. He went wicketless in the first match and took one apiece in the second two. While he was economical on wickets where fast-bowlers struggled for control, one of the main reasons Pakistan lost the series was their struggle to take wickets. Given Zaman’s contribution to these, he goes down as a flop.
Azam has played several explosive innings in franchise cricket across the last few months. But when he finally got a chance with the big gloves in the first two matches of the series, he failed to deliver with the bat.
He was dismissed for a two-ball duck in his first innings before managing just one run in his second. Both of his dismissals were to spin, against Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Rashid. Given that Mohammad Haris also flopped with the bat, it is hard to imagine Rizwan will be troubled for the gloves in the gloves in the T20I side any time soon.