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County Championship 2023

Mohammad Abbas is a County Championship titan – which makes his Pakistan exclusion baffling

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read

Mohammad Abbas has an extraordinary County Championship record, writes Ben Gardner, so why has Pakistan selection eluded him in recent times?

Often, the velocity of a story is dependent on its characters more than its contents. A run-of-the-mill tale can be elevated by those involved – take pretty much any celebrity anecdote, where a common act of human decency becomes a sign that they are an icon to be cherished. “Yeah, and he helped me find a place for my bag in the airplane overhead bins. Genuinely, you’ll never meet a nicer bloke.”

This phenomenon might explain the virality of a recent story about Pakistan and Hampshire’s Mohammad Abbas, and an unlikely link with Manchester City head coach Pep Guardiola. From one angle, this tale is as mundane as they come – The Citizens enquired as to whether the penthouse suite at the Hilton at the Ageas Bowl was available – and was politely told it was occupied. From another, more appealing viewpoint, this was a victory to be savoured for county cricket tragics, Arsenal fans (one of whom is said to have had a hand in the famous Pep snubbing) and, most importantly, Abbas’ growing army of supporters.


Watch Abbas bowl one ball, and you will see little to separate him from the dozens of domestic toilers who tool away in the shires for sub-30 averages without coming close to England recognition. The ball dobs out at around 78mph. The skill is subtle, rather than striking. Certainly, from a single look he doesn’t stand out as a titan of the county game, and one of its greatest modern overseas players.

The brilliance of Abbas is in his totality, in the total lack of anything to hit, the constant nagging away, and the slow but sure working-over, the pulling, the probing, and eventually the mistake. He now has a frankly absurd 112 wickets at 16.25 for Hampshire, all in the top tier of the County Championship. This season, it’s 21 wickets – the most in the country – at 13.71.

As an update on a stat posted by the County Championship’s official Twitter account, he has now bowled 4,721 balls for Hampshire – the equivalent of more than two whole four-day games – and never bowled a wide.

And yet, while Abbas is loved by Hampshire and admired across the country, he has of late struggled to find the same affection back home, from Pakistan’s selectors at least. This is hard to fathom for several reasons. Foremost is Abbas’ excellent Test record – 90 wickets at 23.12, including an average of 23.55 in Pakistan.

Then there’s his work in domestic cricket back in Pakistan. Since his last Test – in which first-innings figures of 3-44 set up a series-levelling win in the West Indies – Abbas has an average a fraction over 25 in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, including an average of 24 in the most recent campaign.

Finally, there’s the paucity of other options for Pakistan, and their Test struggles since. While their pace stocks are deep in white-ball cricket, in the longest format there are fewer candidates to go around. Perhaps the best example is the selection of Mohammad Ali, of a similar pace to Abbas, but with a worse overall record and a worse record in the most recent Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. He averaged north than 60 in his two Tests.

Pakistan won four out of six Tests at home before Abbas was dropped, going unbeaten in that time. Since then, they are winless in eight.

Abbas himself is none the wiser of the cause for his continued exclusion, with what dialogue he had with the previous PCB regime since drying up. “I had a bit of a conversation with Mohammad Wasim and Ramiz Raja even called me, but I feel that there is a communication problem,” he told Cricket Pakistan.

“Communication problems in the Pakistan team should not have happened. Effective communication is the key to solving any problem, and this applies to the Pakistan cricket team as well. The management and players must have open and honest discussions to find a solution and improve the two-way communication process for the betterment of the team.

“I was a little bit sad when England went to Pakistan. I took 50 wickets here; I took 20 wickets in four or five games in Pakistan, I took two five-fors in Pakistan, and even after that, they didn’t pick me.”

Abbas knows that all he can do, as he has done all this time, is keep on working, and keep making the next ball a good one. “I was a little sad, but this is part of life and cricket. These things are not in your hand. What you can do is work even harder, and if you perform well, then your time shall come. I will try my best, and I hope my time will also come.”

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