An unbeaten 162 off 62 balls. 11 fours. 16 sixes. Innings like that tend to be defining, and Hazratullah Zazai’s extraordinary onslaught against Ireland in the 2nd T20I at Dehradun in February is likely to loom large over his career for years to come. Zazai has perhaps set himself an impossibly high bar in only his seventh international outing, but it has made him impossible to ignore even for the arch-conservatives on Afghanistan’s selection panel.
Over the short course of his career to date, Zazai is still largely untested against top-class opposition, the 6-game Ireland series that followed the T20s remains Zazai’s only ODI experience and 21 year-old had just 11 List A games under his belt when he was called up. But thus far it doesn’t seem as though the innings was a fluke. He became only the 3rd batsman ever to hit six sixes off an over in recognised T20 cricket just weeks later, when he hit Abdullah Mazari repeatedly into the stands at the Afghanistan Premiere League, with only a leg side wide to break the monotony of Zazai carting the ball away over midwicket or the left arm spinner’s own head.
Across the line and far away over the leg side is Zazai’s preferred route to runs against pace and spin alike, though he’s capable playing through off the back foot, or hitting high and straight with the front leg thrown out wide. Like Shahzad, his likely opening partner, Zazai is a six-hitter at heart, preferring to rely on his eye and raw power than classical technique, though a first class average approaching 40 speaks of another, less-celebrated dimension to his game. He may be called upon to use it, as with two big-hitters at the top of the order both of whom have a habit of going big or going early, Zazai’s pairing with Shahzad at the top of the order looks dangerous for Afghanistan, their opponents, and the crowd alike.
Zazai is a big-hitting opening batsman, and Afghanistan will look to him to clear the ropes early and often.