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Fahim scorches Pakistan to incredible warm-up win

CricketFahim scorches Pakistan to incredible warm-up win

An outrageous half-century from Fahim Ashraf took Pakistan to a victory that, even by their standards, must rate as one of the most improbable in their history.

Fahim, playing his first innings in a Pakistan shirt, thrashed 60 in 34 balls to turn this Champions Trophy warm-up match against Bangladesh on its head. Coming in at No. 9, he helped add 93 in 41 balls for the ninth wicket to take his side to an unlikely victory and make an all-but-undeniable claim for selection in Pakistan’s Champions Trophy side.

Pakistan batsmen Fahim Ashraf (R) and Hasan Ali celebrate victory over Bangaldesh after the ICC Champions Trophy Warm-up match between Pakistan and Bangladesh at Edgbaston cricket ground in Birmingham, England on May 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Lindsey Parnaby        (Photo credit should read LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP/Getty Images)

Sadly for Fahim, this match will barely rate a footnote in the record books. With both sides able to utilise substitutes and Edgbaston sporting a remarkably short boundary towards the Pershore Road side of the ground (it measured just 42 metres, or 47 yards) in an effort to ensure the best surfaces were protected for more important matches, the game will not even be regarded as a List A encounter.

But let nobody say this innings came in a soft or contrived manner. At various stages, Pakistan had looked doomed to a fourth one-day defeat in succession against Bangladesh – Bangladesh won the last series between the sides, in April 2015, 3-0 – as they subsided to 168 for 5, 227 for 6 and, in the 42nd over, 242 for 7.

That meant they required exactly 100 from the final eight-and-a-half overs. But Fahim, who thinks of his seam bowling as his stronger suit, struck four sixes – none of them over the short boundary – and four fours to take his side over the line.

He launched the assault by taking 19 off an untidy over from Mehedi Miraz, followed it with 16 off one from Mashrafe Mortaza and, with 13 required from the last, eased his side’s nerves with a vast pull for six from the first ball of the final over over the longest boundary in the ground.

While it was his straight hitting that was most impressive – think of Darren Sammy at his best – it was noticeable that, when Bangladesh dropped short in an attempt to push him onto the back foot, he pulled with powerful assurance. It was, by any standards, a wonderfully persuasive performance by a man pushing for an international debut.

Perhaps, had Mustafizur Rahman been playing – he was rested – things might have been different. Taskin Ahmed seemed to tire noticeably as the innings progressed and Shakib Al Hasan did not bowl his whole allocation of overs. But such was Fahim’s power that the Bangladesh bowlers’ ploy of making him hit towards the long boundary was negated and even the experience of Mortaza could find no answer for his clean hitting down the ground.


Maybe we should suspend judgement on Fahim. This was a warm-up game, after all, without the large crowds or media scrutiny of a tournament match. But if he replicates anything like this in the game against India a week tomorrow – and it is hard to see how he could be left out of a Pakistan side that has been looking for a seam-bowling all-rounder since what seems the dawn of time – a star really will have been born.

There was one other major caveat to this performance. The Bangladesh fielding was, at times, really quite appalling. At least five potential catches were dropped – including Fahim in the final over, allowing him to run three – and one important stumping was missed.

Coming on the heels of a match against New Zealand where Bangladesh won despite dropping four chances it underlined the impression that their fielding is a major area of concern going into the Champions Trophy. As Imrul Kayes put it afterwards with a lovely hint of understatement: “I think we need a few more fielding sessions… That’s why we lost the match.”

The shame of that is that, for a vast chunk of this game, Bangladesh were the better side. With Tamim Iqbal slamming a century, they set a total that we may well come to think of as something around par in a tournament that looks set to be hugely enjoyable for batsman and a complete nightmare for bowlers.

After a relatively cautious start (he scored only 8 from his first 17 balls), Tamim thrashed 43 from his next 22 as he made full use of the short boundary and any width offered by Pakistan’s seamers. Imrul added a run-a-ball 61, Mushfiqur Rahim a typically pugnacious 46 and Mahmudullah and Mosaddek Hossain some impetus towards the end of the innings.

With Mohammad Amir rested, Pakistan’s attack offered plenty of pace but no obvious control. Junaid Khan was taken for 25 in one over, Mushfiqur struck Imad Wasim for successive sixes and Wahab Riaz, who cannot be assured of his place in the side, was as mercurial as ever. While Hasan Ali, who could be the unfortunate man to make way for Amir’s return now that Fahim has made such a strong case for selection, leg-spinner Shahdab Khan and Fahim offered a little more control, this was a tough target for a Pakistan side who have made 340 in an ODI only once – and that against Zimbabawe – since the 2015 World Cup.

Pakistan batsmen Fahim Ashraf (R) and Hasan Ali celebrate victory over Bangaldesh after the ICC Champions Trophy Warm-up match between Pakistan and Bangladesh at Edgbaston cricket ground in Birmingham, England on May 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Lindsey Parnaby (Photo credit should read LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP/Getty Images)

And, for much of their innings, it seemed they had no chance of reaching it. Azhar Ali and Babar Azam both perished poking at balls outside off stump before Ahmed Shahzad’s promising innings was ended by a beauty from Shakib Al Hasan that gripped just a little and took his off bail. While Shoaib Malik, who was dropped on 8, and Mohammad Hafeez added 79 in 12.3 overs for the fourth-wicket to provide some hope, when they went and Sarfraz Ahmed soon followed, it seemed their chances departed with them.

But Imad, who survived a stumping chance on 39, kept the chase alive before Fahim delivered his knock-out blow in partnership with Hasan.

Insisting he was expecting to force his way into the side before the first match of the tournament – he was a non-playing member of the limited-overs team in the Caribbean – Fahim said he produced such innings “a lot” in domestic cricket – a statement not entirely supported by a List A average of 15.52 with one half-century – and thanked his captain and coach for “their belief in me.”

“It’s the first innings I’ve played for Pakistan,” he said. “But in domestic cricket I’ve played a lot of innings like that. On one side, the boundary was very small. But they were bowling in good areas and we thought we would hit straight down the ground. I have an ability to hit straight.”

He sure does. And while few will recall the details of such a warm-up game in a couple of weeks, his promise might mean that a Pakistan side seen as rank outsiders go into the tournament with hopes just a little higher.

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