There seems to be no end to Pakistan's fast bowling resources as yet another bowler made his mark on the international stage, this time with a sensational hat-trick, the first in T20Is by a Pakistani, at Abu Dhabi. The bowler who propelled himself into the limelight is Faheem Ashraf, a hard-hitting all-rounder from the Kasur city of Faisalabad.
Faheem Ashraf is first Pakistani to achieve hat-trick in T20Is, overall only 6th player to claim a T20I hat-trick. #PAKvSL
— Faizan Lakhani (@faizanlakhani) October 27, 2017
A fringe player, Ashraf was the sidekick while Usman Shinwari Khan went about his 20 balls of destruction in the fifth and final ODI last week. He was picked in the side more on the back of a slew of cameo knocks in the domestic circuit than for his bowling which has often gone under the radar despite fairly impressive numbers. That he could bowl well was an additional bonus and Pakistan, forever in search of fast bowling all-rounders since the likes of Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood retired, did not need a second invitation to give Ashraf a shoo in.
That he has played just three ODIs and two T20s till Friday is evidence of how raw the Faisalabad all-rounder is. But all of that 'fringe’ reputation was thrown to the winds as the fast medium bowler rewrote history in Abu Dhabi with three balls that he wouldn't ever forget in his life.
Ashraf to Isuru Udana
A short ball on the body of the batsman. Udana pulls with all his might but the ball takes a top edge and scurries through to fine-leg, where Hasan Ali holds onto a pretty good catch.
Ashraf to Mahela Udawatte
A wide delivery outside off-stump is fetched by the batsman and sent high in the air only for deep cover to swoop in and take a fairly regulation catch. Two in two for Ashraf.
Ashraf to Dasun Shanaka
Pakistan have a method of attack against the tail-enders — bowl at the wicket. Ashraf was in no mood to let go of a rare opportunity to grab fame. He unleashed a short of a length ball on the stumps that Shanaka’s bat missed but not his pads. The umpire raised his finger for the LBW appeal and sent Pakistan and Ashraf into a frenzy.
— Ahsan. 🇵🇰 (@iPakistaniLAD) October 27, 2017
It was the first ever hat-trick by a Pakistani in the shortest format of the game and the sixth overall — Brett Lee (2007), Jacob Oram (2009), Tim Southee (2010), Thisara Perera (2016) and Lasith Malinga (2017). It was also the first hat-trick in 15 years by a Pakistani across formats after Mohammad Sami's three-in-three against Sri Lanka in 2002.
It was redemption of sorts for Faisalabad in itself. On this day, 20 years back, at Faisalabad, their batting line-up had made a mess of a 146-run target in the final innings of a Test match they had dominated all through until that day, against South Africa. However, the district will now have better memories of this day as Ashraf catapulted himself into the history books with a rare feat in this format of the game.
@iFaheemAshraf u beauty. Congrats on becoming first Pakistani to get hat-trick in t20👏👏👏
— Azhar Ali (@AzharAli_) October 27, 2017
Although a bowler by primary skills, Ashraf was more known for his aggressive cameos in domestic cricket. He scored a rapid fire 44 against WAPDA for HBL in the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy last year when his side was down and out at 21 for 6.
While that innings caught the selectors’ eyes, it was his terrific half-century from No 9 while chasing 342 against Bangladesh in a Champions Trophy warm-up game that gave him more public attention. Pakistan were tottering at 249/8 when he walked in to bat and he changed the complexion of the game with an incredible 64 not-out, complete with some outstanding hitting and pyrotechnics.
All the while, he kept churning out the numbers with the ball. In 31 First-class matches, the all-rounder has 94 wickets at an average of 26.63 while also making a hundred on his debut. But none of these were as important to his career as the spectacular hat-trick he took on Friday.
Thank you Pakistan for giving me this identity. This hat-trick is dedicated to the brave & beautiful people of Pakistan. #PakistanZindabad pic.twitter.com/SXBW8dCJQx — Faheem Ashraf (@iFaheemAshraf) October 27, 2017
With the kind of fast bowling depth Pakistan has, Ashraf needed to do something incredible to boost his chances and get more matches. In the past month, several young bowlers like Usman Khan and Rumman Raees have made a solid mark in Pakistan's limited-overs side.
In Pakistan's ODI winning streak of nine matches, they conceded 250+ runs just twice, underlining the kind of impact their bowlers have had. In the two T20s thus far in this series, Sri Lanka have scored just 103 and 124. A 23-year-old fast bowler, Hasan Ali, leads their bowling attack (and the ICC bowler rankings) in a team that boasts of a number of experienced fast bowlers like Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Junaid Khan.
Several other young seam bowlers have come and gone in the past few months but haven't been able to nail down their spots in the side due to sheer competition. Pakistan do not just have a problem of plenty. They have a country full of talented, skilful fast bowlers who are in a jostle amongst themselves to get a match or two at international level. When that chance does arrive, they cannot afford to let it go by. Ashraf hasn't, but with Pakistan's fast bowling reservoir far from inexhaustible, the hat-trick alone may not guarantee him a lot more matches.