Afg vs Pak – 2nd ODI – Naseem Shah vs Fazalhaq Farooqi, the sequel

Afg vs Pak – 2nd ODI – Naseem Shah vs Fazalhaq Farooqi, the sequel
Match Analysis

Naseem vs Farooqi, the sequel: Same old storyline brings same old thrills

A year after a pulsating finish at the Asia Cup, the same protagonists delivered another blockbuster climax

Danyal Rasool


He’s done it before. Surely he can’t do it again?  •  AFP/Getty Images

It’s often said that all current mainstream cinema is the same superhero storyline with a superficially rehashed script. If cricket classifies as theatre, the second Afghanistan-Pakistan ODI stretched that concept to an almost parodic degree.

Hostility between the sides had nearly spilled over into physical aggression during their dramatic T20 fixture at last year’s Asia Cup, before Naseem Shah pulled off a victory a scriptwriter would have dismissed as too corny. With one wicket remaining and 11 still needed, Pakistan’s golden boy swung hard twice against Fazalhaq Farooqi, and struck gold both times. Throwing down his gloves and helmet, he set off on an in-your-face victory lap as exhilarating as it was provocative.

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In the time since, Naseem has made little effort and shown little desire to get himself out of the way of Afghanistan’s firing line. Earlier this month at the Lankan Premier League, he directed an especially boisterous send-off the way of Rahmanullah Gurbaz; any half-decent Pashtun lipreader would have told you what he said wasn’t family-friendly.

On Tuesday, after Afghanistan were bowled out for 59 – the lowest total anyone has scored against Pakistan in an ODI – Naseem was interviewed by the PCB’s in-house media unit. His team-mate Mohammad Haris was the interviewer, with Naseem flanked by Haris Rauf and Shaheen Afridi. It was supposed to be gentle, wholesome content. Until that game, Naseem had scored just three ODI runs; on the day, he’d managed an unbeaten 18. When asked what he put his improved batting down to, Naseem went for a mischievous jab. “The Afghan bowlers,” he couldn’t resist saying, before breaking into peals of laughter.

In the year since the Asia Cup drama, Afghanistan had landed a blow of their own, beating Pakistan 2-1 in a T20I series in March. Gulbadin Naib at the time remarked that his side had specifically targeted Naseem. But Naseem is a unique phenomenon, a boy who still possesses the charmed optimism of youth as well as a man with the grit and raw ability to bring those dreams to fruition.

Last year’s Asia Cup was the setting for the first iteration of Naseem vs FarooqiAFP/Getty Images

And as this year’s sequel plays out, Naseem is the first to realise he’s seen this movie before.

Afghanistan have worked themselves into a position of dominance, but if you know your Afghanistan-Pakistan history, that really doesn’t mean much until the final ball is bowled. Shadab Khan may bleed Islamabad United red but he knows when to shelve blanket all-out attack in favour of taking the game deep. The conditions are slow, and Afghanistan take pace off the ball. So instead of galloping, Shadab inches.

“When you’re a senior player, you go through these stages again and again,” he says. “Sometimes you fail, sometimes you succeed. I try to be as calm as possible. Their team has world-class spinners so I wanted to see their overs off and accelerate against their fast bowlers. The boundaries are long so there are easy twos, so when Shaheen and Naseem came our plans were to go for twos.”

Shadab wants to run at every possible opportunity, and he doesn’t care who knows. And with fate conspiring to have Farooqi bowling the final over of a humdinger to Naseem once again, Afghanistan know. There’s a team huddle before the start of an over Shadab desperately wants to be on strike for, and he sneaks out furtively with Farooqi enters his delivery stride, which begins well behind the wicket.

Farooqi has his eyes on Shadab, and has no qualms about whipping off the bails. There’s little love lost between the two sides; Afghanistan don’t need to think twice about effecting that dismissal, and Shadab doesn’t even look back to know there will be no reprieve. When Naseem’s penultimate partner Asif Ali was dismissed in the Asia Cup, the contretemps that followed nearly overshadowed the game. There’s no such drama here.

Naseem followed his career-best 18* in the first ODI with a provocative line about Afghanistan’s bowlingAFP/Getty Images

This should, really, be a no-contest between a young man who has trained to bowl fast all his life against an even younger man whose approach to batting constitutes little more than casual fun. The numbers would write off last year as an aberration, and the odds would favour a reversion to the mean.

But there’s a certain state of mind a few sportspersons are able to call up, when the mere desire to win allows them to see a way against bookmakers’ odds or conventional wisdom. Ben Stokes famously possesses it, but at least he knows how to bat. Naseem? He just doesn’t want to lose, especially not against Afghanistan, and especially not against Fazalhaq Farooqi.

A remarkable inside out-drive brings him four first ball after Shadab’s exit. As Afghan nerves fray, confusion on the boundary allows Pakistan a third run that brings him back on strike for the denouement, with three needed off two balls. Naseem has a slog that reminds everyone he’s really not a batter, but no legendary sporting tale develops without fortune. There’s an outside edge, a desperate look back. The man at short third has no chance, and from there, it’s clear green grass all the way to the rope.

Naseem reprises the frenzied tossing of the helmet and gloves, but this time he doesn’t get far before his team-mates are all over him. It’s almost like they expect him, the youngest man in the side, to lead them out of trouble each time. The context of the win from last year, the acrimony that followed, and the spice that tinges each encounter between these sides only makes this win sweeter.

The targeting of Naseem will invariably become even more laser-focused. And Naseem will simply spread his chest out and walk towards it every time. Perhaps there is a reason, after all, that superhero films continue to be box-office.

Naseem ShahFazalhaq FarooqiShadab KhanAfghanistanPakistanAfghanistan vs PakistanAfghanistan v PakistanAfghanistan in Sri Lanka [Aug 2023]

Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000

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