Pak vs Eng 2022-23 – New faces

Mohammad Ali

Role: Fast bowler

Age: 30

Abdul Qadir first selected fast bowler Mohammad Ali for the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Ltd (ZTBL) department team in 2018, on strong recommendations from the Sialkot cricket circuit, especially those involved with the Amir Waseem Cricket Academy and the Jaguar Cricket Club. Ali was 26 then, and just getting into competitive cricket, but he had an exceptional impact straightaway, playing the PCB Patron’s Trophy (Grade II) for ZTBL. He was the leading wicket-taker in the tournament, with 41 wickets in six games at 13.05, taking his team to the title and helping the department regain first-class status.

This, incidentally, was the same tournament where Naseem Shah kicked off his competitive cricket career; he and Ali played two games together.
Friends on the cricketing circuit like to call him Dizzy – because his bowling reminds them of former Australia quick Jason Gillespie. He is sharp, hits the seam accurately, and is a workhorse who can bowl 25 overs a day. He currently represents Central Punjab on the domestic circuit.

Abrar Ahmed

Role: Legspinner

Age: 24

Abrar Ahmed is a legbreak bowler on paper, but he can bowl the googly, the carrom ball and work his fingers around the ball to do magic: in essence he’s very much the modern mystery spinner, and if he does play any of the Tests, will be the first of his kind to play for Pakistan.

He speaks Pashto but is born and raised in Karachi, his family having moved to the city from the north of the country – specifically a small village called Shinkiari, located on the outskirts of Mansehra near Abbottabad on the Karakoram Highway. He grew up playing tape-ball cricket in Karachi’s Lines Area.

His standout ability to spin the ball caught the attention of local coaches. Zone 3 in Karachi is the weakest among all seven cricketing zones in the city, but Abrar’s heroic performance in 2016 – 53 wickets – got them the local title for the first time, and from there he was on his way to bigger things. His bowling evolved at the Rashid Latif Academy, and he thrived with the help of Masroor Ahmed – a renowned coaching name in the city.

Red ball vs white ball: different routes to the top

Ali has played 22 first-class games picking up 85 wickets in the span of five years, but a big chunk of those wickets came in the last two seasons – 32 in 2021-22 and 24 so far in 2022-23. That might not look like a big haul but Pakistani domestic pitches at that time have been far more conducive for spinners.

He also has the ability to bowl long spells; he bowled 206 overs in six games – 24 wickets at 25.54 included – in his debut first-class season, more than 50 more than the next highest from his squad despite some others having played 10 games. In the last two seasons, in 14 first-class games, he has bowled 2572 balls (more than 428 overs). He has 85 first-class wickets to his name overall, of which 27 wickets have come at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, in 11 innings, at an average of 21.92. Multan has brought him 20 wickets at an average of 11.20. Both venues will host England for the Tests.
Unlike Ali, Abrar made his way into the national reckoning via age-group cricket, having first made his name with the white ball. He first came into the national spotlight playing for PSL side Karachi Kings, as one of their emerging picks in 2017 – he was wicketless in his two games but went away having sent down a memorable, miserly spell to Eoin Morgan – 16 balls, seven dots , one six, 17 runs – in a game in which the former England captain ransacked 80 not out off 57. Then coach Mickey Arthur was very excited by the prospect and both Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were impressed.
Abrar stalled by injury

He played one more PSL game after the Morgan clash, then all but disappeared from the cricket scene with a lower-back injury. He returned to regular action only in 2020, playing for Sindh Second XI in the National T20 Second XI Cup, picking up three wickets at a strike rate of 16 with an economy of 6.25. And he did even better with the red ball: in the Quaid-e-Azam Second XI Trophy that year, he finished with 57 wickets at 11.75, the third-highest wicket-taker in the tournament.

Those numbers got him promoted to the first XI and, while he has not played most regularly, the wickets have kept coming – 16 in 2020-21, 17 in 2021-22, and 43 in the ongoing season at 21.95.

According to coach Masroor Ahmed, Abrar has been “grossly underrated in red-ball cricket, otherwise with him at peak fitness, he has always been a complete package for all formats of cricket. He doesn’t just bowl for the sake of bowling but he knows the art of taking wickets. He has variety in his bowling, and with the sort of control he has, he can become a mainstream bowler for Pakistan”.

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