The enigma that is Faheem Ashraf

Bowling all-rounder or batting all-rounder? Faheem Ashraf's role in Pakistan cricket is still undecided



KARACHI:

Many would remember the 2017 Champions Trophy because of Pakistan’s stupendous victory against all odds, where they came into the tournament as the lowest-ranked side, eighth to be exact, in the event and after an initial hiccup bludgeoned over oppositions to lift the silverware.

However, there was this one match and one performances even before the event started that put on display the prowess of a fine young all-rounder, who would go on to become a mainstay in the Pakistan line-up after the event.

Faheem was on fire against Bangladesh in the warm-up game which Pakistan had lost by all means before the left-handed all-rounder walked in at the number nine position.

To add a little perspective, Bangladesh had scored 341 off their 50 overs courtesy Tamim Iqbal’s century and in their chase, Pakistan were left reeling at 248-8.

Shoaib Malik (72 off 66) was the highest scorer for Pakistan till that point with 40-plus contributions coming from Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez and Imad Wasim.

However, all those were not enough for Pakistan as they lacked the firepower to even cross the 300-run mark, let alone chase a 342-run target.

Enter Faheem. With an incredibly short boundary (42 metres) on offer to hit the ball out of the park, Faheem took the opposite route and cleared the longest boundaries in the ground. Meanwhile, he also put on display his straight-hitting ability. A total of four sixes and four fours helped him score 64 off just 30 balls, a rare sight coming from a Pakistani all-rounder.

Even people who remember the warm-up game, won’t remember the important ninth-wicket stand between Faheem and his young partner Hasan Ali. Hasan kept the scoreboard ticking too with his 27 off 15 courtesy one six and two fours.

So, after pulling off such an incredible save for Pakistan, everyone was sure that Faheem would make it into the playing eleven when the Champions Trophy group stage matches kick off. However, Pakistan’s notorious habit of keeping performers out and out-of-form players in the team was once again out there for everyone to see.

With competition for pace places tough in the Pakistan side, Faheem couldn’t make his debut in the Sarfaraz Ahmed-led side’s first match and instead Hasan Ali was asked to wear the green alongside an in-form Mohammad Amir and an erratic Wahab Riaz. Pakistan also preferred to play leg-spin prodigy Shadab Khan together with Imad Wasim to boost their spin department.

Pakistan’s humiliation at the hands of India in the Champions Trophy opener will stay side to side with the victory against them in the final. Faheem will then get only one chance to bat and bowl in the Champions Trophy and that would in the match against Sri Lanka where Pakistan had to win to make it into the semis.

Faheem bagged two wickets in his 6.2 overs, giving away 37 runs. With the bat he would score 15 off as many balls before being unfortunately run-out.

Hasan’s perilous form, Amir’s heroics in the final and Sarfaraz’s captaincy to win the Champions Trophy stole all the limelight, but in the background of it all, Pakistan knew that a star was born for them.

However, the star took a lot of time to find its light, but recent form has shown that Faheem may have just learned to finally play the all-rounder’s role.

A look at his short career in all formats show a stark contrast between the player Faheem promised to be and the player he turned out to be.

In 25 ODIs, he has only scored only 185 with the highest being 28. Meanwhile, he has bagged only 21 wickets even if we consider him a fast-bowling all-rounder.

In 32 T20Is, he has scored even lesser runs with only 170 to his name. And in the wickets column, there are no extravagant numbers to show with only 29 scalps to his name.

However, it is the five-day Tests, where Faheem was seen peaking recently.

In the New Zealand series, Faheem scored a fighting 91 in the first innings of the first Test to help Pakistan get out of a tight spot. He also bagged two wickets in the Test.

He followed up that fight in the first innings of the second Test with a 48-run innings. This time he bagged a single wicket in the two innings.

In the first South Africa Test, he only bowled 14 overs in both innings. However, he scored an important 64 in the first innings.

And now, as the second Test enters business end, he has an unbeaten 78 to show in the first innings, one more run than Babar Azam.

This recent surge in runs from Faheem suggests that he was wrong to consider himself a bowling all-rounder all along. He should have opted to be labelled as a batting all-rounder. But labels don’t matter really, when you are performing in at least one department if you’re an all-rounder and maybe the heydays of Faheem are here now, but with the bat.

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