Aizaz Cheema, Pakistan’s latest Test seamer, took cue from his predecessors, sending in toe-crushing yorkers to dismantle Zimbabwe’s march towards the magic 500-mark.
He credited English club cricket for instilling in him the killer instinct needed to play international cricket.
“As an overseas player you are the only professional in an English club side and the pressure is on you alone,” said Cheema following his eight-wicket haul that earned him applause aplenty. “So, I learnt how to have that much-needed match-winning ability and also how to bowl a lot of yorkers, even with the new ball.”
Injury finally paves way
His blitz on the second day, taking four wickets in the first-innings, was a determined effort from a man who was desperate to prove himself after numerous disappointments in his career, stemming from his near career-ending foot injury in 2005.
Cheema was named in the squad for the World Cup and the tour of the West Indies that followed. He missed both through injury. But after finally getting a chance to earn the national colours, he wanted to make the most of it and with five wickets left to get against Zimbabwe, he asked captain Misbahul Haq to let him have a bowl.
Although he had struggled on his opening day in Test cricket, on a flat and unresponsive track, Cheema believed he could show improvement with the older ball and displayed the right attitude when using it. He bowled with excellent variation – a selection of good yorkers, a liberal sprinkling of bouncers and extracted some reverse swing. His reward was four wickets.
Respecting the opposition
Cheema, unlike some others, showed a real sense of respect for the opposition and understood the privilege of playing for his country. He didn’t take Zimbabwe for granted and instead used the match to show how much he has developed over the last few years, irrespective of his opposition.
Even in Zimbabwe’s second-innings, with the hosts effectively 15 for eight at one stage, Cheema bowled with passion, embodied in his accuracy and nagging line just outside the off stump and he was rewarded with the last two wickets on the final morning.
“Tatenda Taibu, especially, gave me a bit of headache. He was playing well on the off side, taking the ball from middle to off and I had to think carefully how to bowl to him,” he said, going on to give the veteran wicket-keeper high praise by comparing him to a local sensation.
“It was a bit like at home against Umar Akmal. Whenever I bowl to him I find it a bit difficult to stop the runs.”
Waqar’s resignation unfortunate for Cheema
It is unfortunate that the tour will be Cheema’s first and last under Waqar Younis’ watch, because he could well blossom under the influence of one of one the game’s great fast-bowlers. Even without his influence, Waqar has tipped Cheema, over the other two quicks who played in the Test, to have a ‘bright future’ in international cricket.
With bowlers like Umar Gul and Wahab Riaz eager to return to the playing-eleven, Cheema understands that his spot is far from guaranteed and that he will have to work hard.
“I have to play match by match, day by day, work hard on my fitness, perform well and get the confidence of selectors and coach,” he said.
The writer is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2011.