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2019 in Review

Wisden’s men’s T20I innings of 2019, No.1: Zazai shows what the fuss is about

Hazratullah Zazai
Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read

Wisden’s men’s T20I innings of 2019 was when Hazratullah Zazai showed he could be Afghanistan’s first global batting superstar, sending a slew of records tumbling against Ireland.

Hazratullah Zazai 162*

Afghanistan v Ireland
2nd T20I
February 23

The Innings

2019 was a year when the expansion of T20I status to include all countries had the more jobsworthy of cricket’s statistical gatekeepers worrying about the sanctity of cricket’s treasured records being tarnished. But the game which saw the most new ground broken wasn’t between a pair countries who elicited the reaction, ‘do they really play cricket?’ and a flurry of furrowed brows as we all tried to work out if it really counted.

Instead it was the two greatest beneficiaries of cricket’s latest stilted attempts at global expansion that etched themselves into the record books. The highest T20 partnership, the most sixes in a T20I innings, and the highest team score were all knocked off one night in Dehradun, and at the heart of the carnage was the man who could become Afghan cricket’s first global batting superstar, Hazratullah Zazai.

Already the cricket world had had a taste, when Zazai smashed six sixes in a single over in a domestic T20 over four months prior. That had demonstrated his talent, his rare strength, the kind that makes his adulation of Chris Gayle seem something more like realistic admiration and that makes how he started out, learning watching TV, trying whatever and seeing what stuck without proper coaching, into a charming origin story rather than something that held him back.

But this showed his brain as well as his brawn, with his shot selection and placement as much a feature as that mighty hitting power.

To start, when Ireland had two fielders deep but square on the leg-side, he targeted mid-wicket. Then when they tried to frustrate him outside off, he pierced the in-field pretty much every time. By the time 10 overs were done, he had 83 off 35 balls to his name, and there was no stopping him.

The post-script came six months later, after Zazai had boom-or-busted his way through a World Cup campaign that delivered little, when Czechia faced Turkey in the Romania Cup. Entering at 107-3, Sudesh Wickramsekera smashed 104 off 36 balls, and all of a sudden Afghanistan had someone alongside them atop the list of highest team totals, a headline made, and another country where cricket has planted its seed revealed. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll face off against Afghanistan? Maybe it will even be Zazai who inspires them to carry on along their journey.

The shot

9.6, Shane Getkate to Hazratullah Zazai, four runs

How do you pick just one? As Ireland wilted and Zazai bloomed, proceedings descended into a blur of big and bigger hits, the stands and even roads outside peppered with cricket balls. But perhaps this was the shot that demonstrated why this time he went truly stratospheric rather than holing out when getting going.

Shortly after being dropped in the deep, attempting to smash a very wide half-volley back to Afghanistan, he was presented with another tempter, a full toss that would have been called wide had he left it. This time, instead of muscling it, he opted for timing, a half-swing and pose-hold perfectly bisecting the two off-side boundary riders, and he was back on his way.

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