Ibrahim Zadran is 20 years old and has only played eight ODIs for Afghanistan. But he has scored three centuries already and looks destined for greatness, writes Shashwat Kumar.
Afghanistan, for most of their international cricketing tenure, have been labelled a bowling-heavy side. In recent times, though, that narrative seems to be changing, largely because youngsters of Ibrahim Zadran’s ilk have shown their immense potential.
On Wednesday, the 20-year-old notched up his third ODI ton, and his second in the series against Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka ultimately managed to draw the series, although that does not take anything away from what Ibrahim accomplished. Both of his centuries came in vastly different circumstances, and on slightly different surfaces. Yet each was crafted with the sort of conviction and clarity that you would not normally associate with someone who has only played eight ODIs.
In the opening game, Afghanistan had set the tone in the powerplay, courtesy of Rahmanullah Gurbaz’s pyrotechnics. Once he departed, however, there was a chance for a wobble. Ibrahim joined with Rahmat Shah and ensured that that was not the case. Afghanistan comfortably won that game but things would have been different had Ibrahim not read the situation. He milked the bowling, picked up singles and twos, opening up his shoulders only once Afghanistan had built a solid foundation.
In the third ODI, Afghanistan lost three wickets inside the first 15 overs. Gurbaz, Rahmat and skipper Hashmatullah Shahidi had all perished, leaving Ibrahim and Najibullah Zadran to resurrect the innings. And the youngster did so with aplomb. The knock mainly consisted of strike rotation but as the innings progressed, Ibrahim attacked a lot more, scoring 51 runs off 32 balls in the final ten overs.
These traits, apart from highlighting how special a knock he produced on Wednesday, also illustrate how he seems to have most ODI batting bases covered. If the ball is moving around, he has the requisite technique to hold his own. He is competent against spinners and he seemed to pick Maheesh Theekshana and Wanindu Hasaranga’s variations better than most throughout the series.
He also seems to have the right temperament to survive the rigours of international cricket. Afghanistan were playing their first-ever bilateral ODI series against Sri Lanka, and there were several occasions where they could have wilted. They batted first each time and established a foothold only because Ibrahim was able to add a sense of calm to the proceedings.
As things stand, he has mustered three hundreds in just eight ODI innings. His strike-rate, which has come under the scanner in T20Is, sits at 87.12 in ODIs, which is more than acceptable especially considering he acts as an ideal foil to Gurbaz at the top of the order. That Ibrahim can increase the scoring rate when needed only portrays how versatile an ODI batter he is.
Ibrahim’s three ODI centuries is also the third-best tally any Afghanistan men’s batter has ever produced. Among those currently part of their ODI squad, only Rahmat Shah has more hundreds (five) than Ibrahim. Rahmat has played 80 more matches than the youngster.
Ibrahim seems primed to have a great ODI career. He has the talent, the technique, and most tellingly, the temperament to be successful consistently. This format also seems to suit his game a lot more than T20Is, where he has to often take the attack to the opposition. In 50-over cricket, he can pick and choose his moments and build his innings on a diet of singles and doubles. A List A average of 50.41 across 30 matches makes that abundantly clear. He has solid technical foundations; at 17, he scored 87 on Test debut against Bangladesh.
His impact, despite featuring in just eight ODIs, has been remarkable. He has three ODI hundreds; only Quinton de Kock has scored more ODI hundreds against Full Members before turning 21. There is every chance that Ibrahim Zadran becomes Afghanistan’s first great batter.