From an all-rounder questioned for his batting abilities, Faheem Ashraf has turned the perception around him a full 180-degrees, writes Rohit Sankar.
“A bowler who bats a little bit at the moment”
This was Pakistan head coach Micky Arthur’s assessment of Faheem Ashraf in early 2019 when asked about his exclusion from the second Test of a series in South Africa. It seemed like a harsh judgement about a No.8 batsman who had made scores of 83 and 37 in two of his three Tests. Two years since, Ashraf has done more than enough to ridicule any bits of that notion remaining about him.
In four of his last six Test innings since coming back into the Test side in New Zealand last year, Ashraf has made vital contributions with the bat, each time stepping up when the team needed him to.
At Mount Maunganui in the Boxing Day Test last year, Ashraf came in with the team tottering at 80-6 and went on to blast 91 in 134 balls, stitching together a century stand with stand-in skipper Mohammad Rizwan, and then adding valuable runs, including four back-to-back fours off Tim Southee, late in the innings to avert a follow-on.
At Christchurch in the next Test, he came in at 171-5, once again with Pakistan threatening to squander a resurrection that was in the making. Ashraf hung around enough to make 48 and then another good-looking 28 in the next innings.
When Pakistan returned for a home series against South Africa, there were question marks around Ashraf still. The all-rounder had been omitted in the UAE despite a promising debut in UK in 2018. The ‘horses for courses’ tag was assigned, with the UAE apparently not benefitting his skill set.
While Ashraf wasn’t overly effective with the ball in New Zealand, he had fulfilled the role of a bowling all-rounder perfectly. It came as no surprise then that this management decided to persist with Faheem even when conditions weren’t really to his liking. Ashraf justified the decision by sticking up with the bat again in the first Test. He had bowled just five overs, but made a quickfire 64, putting up a century stand with Fawad Alam, and taking the team from a precarious 176-6 to 295-8 at the point of his dismissal.
In the second Test at Rawalpindi, Faheem was at his now-commonplace rescue act mission again. With Pakistan losing the wickets of both overnight batsmen, Babar Azam and Fawad Alam, in quick succession early on day two, Faheem was stuck with the lower-order again. This time, he lost Mohammad Rizwan too without the scoreboard moving ahead much. Unperturbed, Faheem went on to bat with the tail, remaining unbeaten till the end, and adding 55 of the 82 runs the last four wickets made in Pakistan’s total of 272. He went on to grab the big wicket of Faf du Plessis to cap off another fine day in Test cricket.
Fine form of @iFaheemAshraf continues!
Faheem’s turnaround since his all-rounder tag was first questioned has been brilliant. At a time when Test teams are moving towards a five-bowler formula, the all-rounder who can contribute big from the lower-order and take the workload of a first-change quick is becoming invaluable. Ravindra Jadeja and Jason Holder are in the same mould while Mitchell Santner, Sam Curran, Wiaan Mulder and Wanindu Hasaranga are all players their respective teams hope will add some much-needed balance.
Ashraf has already edged ahead from the list of candidates likely to nail down the role to one who has nearly defined it. “My improvement hasn’t happened overnight, there’s a lot of hard work behind it that nobody sees,” Ashraf had said before the second Test in a video conference with the media. “I have always viewed myself as a bowling allrounder. I try and give my all with the ball, and help the specialist bowlers.”
In each of his eight Test matches, Faheem has found a way to contribute one way or the other. A Test batting average of 42.76 and bowling average of 32.46 only tell part of the story. Like with every all-rounder of his kind, the question mark will keep hovering around their place in a Test team. The good ones defy those to relentlessly contribute to the team’s cause. Faheem has so far fit that bill to the T.