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Sohail Tanvir will be remembered as a T20 star, but his Pakistan career could have been so much more

Sohail Tanvir announced his international retirement recently
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

Sohail Tanvir recently announced his international retirement, nearly six years since he last represented Pakistan. Aadya Sharma looks back at a career that could have been much more.

Many many moons ago, a teenaged Sohail Tanvir – trying to find his feet in professional cricket – was supposedly ridiculed and called “pankha” by a city selector. Pankha translates to “ceiling fan”, clearly a dig at Tanvir’s gangly, wrong-footed action. Tanvir cried, even contemplated quitting.

But he didn’t. Over the years, the same pankha became a nightmare for batters across the world. It was another reminder that cricket wasn’t all about the coaching manual. There was enough space for the unconventional.


Tanvir has played 388 T20s and might add a few more to what has been, by far, his most prolific format. He’s enjoyed great success around the globe in franchise cricket. It began with the 2008 IPL win with Rajasthan Royals when Tanvir ended as the first Purple Cap winner, also sending down one of the all-time great T20 spells. And even though Pakistan’s ties with the IPL didn’t last long, he became arguably the country’s first T20 bowling star.

He was signed up in the KFC Big Bash, was in one of the first batches of the BPL and also entered the CPL early. He’s played in the T20 Blast, and of course, a fair bit in the PSL, even spreading his wings into the LPL and GLT20.

Despite an impressive start, and T20 success all around the world, why did Tanvir’s Pakistan career end at 32?

When Tanvir first started playing for Pakistan, there was a bit of Wasim Akram in him – here was a left-arm quick who could really bat. At 22, he played in the very first T20 World Cup final. Later that year, he broke into Test cricket. Both entries were through injuries: for the first one, he replaced Shoaib Akhtar, who was sent home. The other one came due to Umar Gul’s injury.

On Test debut in Delhi, Tanvir picked up the wickets of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid – he later dubbed the second one the “ball of his life“. However, his Test career never took off: the Kolkata Test that followed turned out to be his last. The team eventually phased him out of their plans by 2009, giving a chance to Mohammad Talha.

In ODIs and T20Is though, Tanvir settled in nicely: he starred in the 2008 Asia Cup, picking up the most wickets by a quick, and took 32 wickets that year, his best year by a distance. That tournament also gave a reflection of his batting skills: a crunch 59-ball 55 from No.9 saved Pakistan the blushes against Hong Kong.

Everything looked good – but just as it so often happens with promising quicks, injuries came in the way.

A lacklustre outing in the title win of the 2009 T20 World Cup was followed by a long period of absence as Tanvir struggled with a damaged disc in his lower back. The emergence of Mohammad Amir and the re-emergence of Mohammad Asif stalled his Test hopes, and didn’t make his white-ball return easy.

Things turned around once again with Amir and Asif’s suspension the following year. It could have been a blessing for Tanvir, and a great opportunity to become the leader of an unstable attack, but his comeback didn’t last long. A chronic knee injury surfaced, ruling him out for most of 2010. Between April 2009 and January 2011, Tanvir didn’t play any ODIs.

A rushed attempt to play in early 2011 backfired, and he was ruled out of the 2011 World Cup with the same back injury. This time, it was another left-arm quick – Junaid Khan – who benefitted.

Pakistan did not move on completely from him though, and the time away helped him grow in stature through two new domestic T20 leagues. He took 13 wickets (the most for Sylhet Lions) in the first season of the BPL (2012), and 11 wickets (the second-most) in the inaugural Sri Lanka Premier League. Soon after, he had linked into the national side for both white-ball formats, but the tussle was now with another left-arm quick: Mohammad Irfan.

His ODI career couldn’t quite kickstart again: he took six wickets apiece in 2012 & 2013 (averaging 45.33 and 60.00 respectively). After a last-ditch effort to revive his Pakistan career in 2014, despite being uncontracted, raised eyebrows, but it wasn’t enough to extend into the 2015 World Cup. In a 62-ODI career, thus, Tanveer never played a World Cup game.

In T20Is, though, Tanvir continued to stay relevant, playing both the 2012 & 2014 World Cups. He was Pakistan’s leading T20I wicket-taker in 2015, but couldn’t really build up on that success thereafter. Mohammad Amir’s return in 2016 and Wahab Riaz’s re-emergence compounded things.

By April 2017, his T20I career had also come to a close. And yet, his T20 career continued to flourish. Later that year, he dismissed Kane Williamson, Eoin Morgan and Kieron Pollard for ducks in a record CPL spell of 5-3. Pakistan would definitely have been tempted. But another comeback did not materialise.

In a 2018 interview, Tanvir insisted that he became a freelance T20 cricketer “not by choice, but by force”, as he had “no options”. “My priority is to always play for Pakistan, but I’m not getting my chances,” he said.

Tanvir’s T20 career continued thereafter: he was the leading wicket-taker in the 2019/20 Pakistan T20 Cup, is nearing 400 T20 wickets [only Wahab Riaz has more from Pakistan], and featured in the PSL last year. He hasn’t played any T20s since last year but in his international retirement note, mentioned that he will continue to feature in the shortest format, domestically.

In all, Tanvir ended up playing two Tests, 57 T20Is and 62 ODIs. Injuries, odd form and a rapidly changing landscape didn’t allow more. In a way, it helped him make his name as a globe-trotting T20 star. One wonders, though, what the same success could have done to his international career.

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