Naseem Shah has turned a lot of heads in this Asia Cup. But that came from his skill with the ball in hand in what was his T20I debut for Pakistan, against India. He cleaned up KL Rahul first ball and continued to be a menace in the PowerPlay for the Indian side, beating Virat Kohli’s bat repeatedly. Naseem, who’d already established himself as a fine Test bowler, came into the tournament with the pressure of having to shoulder the bowling burden in the absence of the experienced Shaheen Shah.
Yet, with Pakistan’s Asia Cup campaign on the line, it was Naseem’s batting on the night that left an indelible mark on the tournament. Pakistan had made a complete mess of what should’ve been a straightforward run chase as an incredibly spirited Afghanistan side just refused to give up despite posting just 129 for 6. In reply, Pakistan limped to 110 for 8 in 18.2 overs when Naseem walked out as the No. 10 batter. He watched as Asif Ali wiped out six from the deficit with a big hit, but fell just the next ball to leave Pakistan nine down and needing 12 off 7. That became 11 off 6 with Naseem on strike against FazalHaq Farooqi. Afghanistan were in control at this stage, until Farooqi miscontrolled two attempted yorkers and dished out full tosses instead, and Naseem deposited them for two straight sixes to send the Pakistan dugout into a tizzy.
“When I came in to bat, I had the belief I could hit sixes,” Naseem said. “I practice this. I knew they would bowl yorkers. I just tried and I executed. I had spoken earlier itself that we need to have belief, we can hit. We train in the nets, so that belief was there. I felt my bat was not good, so I changed it (laughs).”
“Asif [Ali] was batting when I came in, the idea was to give him single but when he got out, I thought it was all on me. In such matches, when you lose the ninth wicket, no one expects you [to win it], but I had belief that I can. I practice hitting a lot. This will be a memorable game for me. Everyone’s forgotten I am a bowler!”
Shadab Khan, who starred with a 26-ball 36 after being sent up to bat at No.5, reckoned Naseem’s efforts will be etched in memory for a long time. “Those sixes will always be remembered,” Shadab said. “Our management has promoted our bowlers to bat a bit, because you don’t know what situation will come in a game. Our bowlers also have calibre to finish games with the bat.”
For his captain Babar Azam, who watched nervously ahead of the final over, Naseem’s heroics invoked memories of that iconic Javed Miandad six on the last ball off Chetan Sharma against India in the Austral-Asia Cup of 1986.
“At the back of the mind, I thought this is T20 cricket, and I have seen Naseem bat like this, so I had a little bit of belief. This reminded me of Javed Miandad’s six in Sharjah,” Babar said at the post-match presentation.