Is Sami Aslam the solution to Pakistan’s opening woes?Sport
Last year on April 22, a 19-year-old left-handed batsman was given a go in the international arena.
His call to international circuit came after Pakistan put up an abysmal show in the first two matches of a three-match One Day International (ODI) series.
Following a disastrous World Cup show just a few weeks back, Pakistan were on their tour to Bangladesh.
They continued to be thrashed as the batting line-up failed to put up more than 250 runs on placid tracks that saw the hosts put up 329 in the series opener and chase down 251 under 40-overs in the final ODI.
With wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfraz Ahmed managing an average of only 15.5 as an opener, Sami Aslam was handed an opportunity to begin his international career in what was nothing more than a dead-rubber.
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Making to the international level at the back of staggering scores at Under-19 level, Aslam impressed with a 50-ball 45 which gave Pakistan a 91-run opening stand, the highest in the series.
It was evident from the first sight of this young boy that he possessed a vast repertoire of strokes.
His evenly distributed 45 runs on both sides of the square, 24 on the off-side and 21 on the leg, underscored his ability to score around the dial.
Six days later, the teenager was inducted into Pakistan’s Test team.
Not as impressive as he was in the 50-over cricket, Aslam managed only 47 runs in three innings with 20 being his highest score.
Pakistan’s new chief selector Haroon Rasheed wrote off the opener from his future plans.
Pakistan persisted with Ahmed Shehzad and Shan Masood during the time period. They averaged mere 28 and 26 in Tests on flat and dull Asian wickets.
Mohammad Hafeez, too, stood up to his reputation of being a flat-track bully and averaged 41 in eight Tests.
After a year in oblivion, Aslam returned with a stunning 108* for Sindh against Balochistan during 45-over List ‘A’ tournament, Pakistan Cup.
He hit 10 boundaries — eight fours and two sixes — in his 120-ball knock.
The left-hander followed up with 86-ball 75 against Islamabad and eventually ended the tournament with a towering batting average of 66.34.
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The profound run towards the end of the domestic season earned Aslam a spot in Test squad for the country’s assignment in England. Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s new chief selector, couldn’t ignore seeing this boy playing from the book all over the park.
As anticipated by experts, Pakistan’s middle-order found itself trapped under the rubble of the disasters caused by the opening combination of Hafeez and Masood. The duo put up the partnerships of 32, 2, 27, and 7 in four innings.
After benching Aslam for the first four First-class contests which also included the Lord’s and Old Trafford Tests, Pakistan were forced to try him out in a side match against Worcester where he managed to score 19 runs.
On Wednesday this week, the Lahore-born was recalled and with a solid 176-ball 82, he proved his selection right.
The bemoaned Pakistan cricket fans, who had seen their batsmen throw away wickets to lose deliveries outside the off-stump, were treated with well judged leaves as James Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled daunting spells throughout the day.
Despite witnessing his senior partner fall in a rather unlucky manner on the fourth ball of the day, Aslam remained calm and displayed immaculate technique to anchor Pakistan’s reply to England’s soft 297.
Sticking to the coaching manual, Aslam saw off the maroon Dukes ball to settle himself on the Edgbaston wicket.
Often Aslam gave viewers an impression that he was few steps ahead of Anderson and Broad as he picked the seam position of their hands even before the ball was being bowled.
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After stealing a quick single on the first ball he faced in the day, Aslam steered a half-tracker through the gap between slip-cordon and point-fielder to pick up his first four. Eight more followed in the day.
During the morning session, which is most essential session of the day for the pace bowlers, Aslam, waiting for the ball to get old, piled up only 27 runs with a meek strike rate, which hinted that the young batsman possesses a head of a batsman in his late thirties with over 70 Tests under his belt.
Once he surpassed 80 deliveries, that was when his strike-rate started to creep up from mid-30s.
He charged down the wicket twice against England’s main off-spinner Moeen Ali to deposit him for a four and a six later in his innings before getting run-out as a result of a poor call by Azhar Ali.
However, his almost six-hour stay on the crease should serve as a manual for Hafeez, Masood and others vying for the opening slot.
Pakistan Cricket Board kept Aslam waiting for a year to leave a mark at the international level despite a promising 45 in his first-ever international game.
It turned him into a 20-year-old from a teenager before he could put up his maiden Test score of 50-plus.
With veterans Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan being asked to prolong their careers in the absence of quality individuals, Aslam’s temperament and skill set give hope and show that the future is not so bleak.