Asif Ali has faced only 34 balls across Pakistan’s last four successful chases – but they have resulted in five fours and ten sixes.
At first glance, Asif Ali’s numbers in Twenty20 Internationals – 460 runs, strike rate 135 – do not stand out. It is only upon closer inspection that one notices how special he has been of late. Since the start of 2021, he has scored only 129 runs, but they have come at 157.
While chasing over this period, he has struck at 189. And in his last four chases, that goes up to 262 – 89 runs in 34 balls. For perspective, a batter striking at 140 would have taken 63 balls to get those runs. A 150-batter would have needed 59. In 5.4 overs of batting, Asif has hit five fours and ten sixes – essentially more than two boundary hits every over – without having the time to get his eye in.
Small sample? Perhaps. It is probably not fair to call Asif special already based on these numbers. After all, he does not bowl, so his contribution per chase – ‘impact’, to borrow a word from experts – has been worth 8.5 balls a match. Yet, Pakistan are content to back him, for to be able to play the big hit without getting set is an asset not many Twenty20 batters can boast of.
Pakistan were chasing 135 in the first of these, in last year’s T20 World Cup, but the opposition – New Zealand – would play in the final of the tournament. New Zealand had clawed back in typical fashion, reducing Pakistan to 87-5 in the 15th over.
Asif cut the first ball he faced, from Trent Boult, for four. In the next over, he lofted Tim Southee for consecutive sixes. Southee responded by pinging Asif on the helmet; Asif lofted Boult over long-on to seal the match.
Three days later, Pakistan were chasing 148 against Afghanistan. None of Pakistan’s top order could hit the 130-mark, and when Shadab Khan arrived, they needed 24 in 13 balls.
Shadab turned Naveen-ul-Haq towards mid-wicket and set off for an easy single. Asif sent him back. It was a decision so surprising that Shadab was almost run out while returning to the crease.
But Asif knew what he was doing. There were 24 to be made, and he had six balls (and that 20th over) from Karim Janat – Afghanistan’s weakest bowler of the night – to get them. Of the many ways in which he could got them in an over, he went for the simplest: four sixes, all of them between extra cover and mid-wicket.
The chase against West Indies in Karachi was different. This time the target was 208, and Pakistan needed a gettable 24 in 16 balls when Asif arrived. A four and a six off Dominic Drakes reduced the target. Romario Shepherd claimed Fakhar Zaman, but once Asif got the strike back, he hit Shepherd for the same – all of this within the seven balls he faced.
India, of course, was another proposition. Asif was greeted by Ravi Bishnoi by what seemed the most curious of manners – but India had done their homework. They would cramp Asif for room.
Bishnoi’s first ball was a slider, designed to jam Asif on the leg-stump. It was too wide. Bishnoi responded by bowling wide outside off. It worked, for Asif top-edged the slog sweep – but Arshdeep Singh dropped the catch. Bishnoi’s next ball was another slider, once again wide of leg.
The next time Asif faced a ball, it was against Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who refrained from pitching up. Asif hit a six and a four, and added another four against Arshdeep in the last over. He fell two balls later, but the match was sealed. In four successful chases, Asif’s lowest – and slowest – effort turned out to be an eight-ball 16.
As mentioned, it is perhaps not prudent to gauge Asif based on a 34-ball sample. But over the same period, his 646 runs have come at 152. And he faces eight balls a match, 10 balls an innings. Forty per cent of his runs have come from No.7, a position often considered too low for a specialist batter. And he has hit a boundary – four or six – every five balls, a high count given the sample size.
The post-2020 Asif, thus, has carved a niche of being indispensable despite being relevant for under two of the forty overs in a Twenty20 match. So far, it has been an investment worth it.