T20 World Cup 2024: Swing it like Farooqi

Left-arm pacer is the leading wicket-taker in the tournament at the moment with 12 scalps from three matches
Fazalhaq Farooqi and Rahmanullah Gurbaz (L) have been standout performers for Afghanistan
Fazalhaq Farooqi and Rahmanullah Gurbaz (L) have been standout performers for Afghanistan(Photo | AP)

CHENNAI: These are heady days for the Afghanistan men's cricket team. On Thursday night, they eased past Papua New Guinea to advance to the Super 8 stage of the tournament. During the course of that win, two of the standout names of the T20 World Cup thus far — Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Fazalhaq Farooqi — went back to topping the run-scoring and wicket-taking charts.

It continues the remarkable story of a side who was deep in the trenches, playing the sport in the lower divisions as late as 12 years ago. Heck, they were only recognised as an Associate Member of the ICC in 2013.

Over the last two weeks, they have been playing like relative veterans, an equal mix of control and flair. It's true that they were expected to put up a tight fight with New Zealand and West Indies but they have brought their A game to the table in conditions helpful to all their bowling types.

But nobody could have predicted the evisceration they handed out to the Kiwis. As a result, they are sitting pretty at the top with three wins in as many games (their performances have basically rendered their league clash against West Indies irrelevant).      

But coach Jonathan Trott begged to disagree after their regulation win over PNG. "We still have one game left, an important group game," he told reporters. "It's going to be a good gauge of where we are against a powerful West Indies side who won an incredible game last night (Wednesday) from the position they were in.

So, it's nice to have won tonight and got qualification. To come to a World Cup and win three (games) is a nice feeling, but also the realisation and reality that we haven't won anything yet. We only achieved the group stage and we have got some important matches coming up."

If they are to have a chance of progressing through to the semifinals — as it stands, it looks like they will be with Australia, India and Bangladesh — Farooqi will be an important player. He has found copious amount of new ball swing to expose the middle-order early doors. Against Uganda, he picked up two in the first over, with two classical in-swinging deliveries from over the wicket. Knowing he had his best friend for company, new ball movement, he focused on keeping the stumps in play. A bowled and a leg-before were just rewards.

With movement up front, you can also challenge both edges. Against the Kiwis in the same venue (Guyana), after removing one of Finn Allen's poles off the first ball of their innings, he found Daryl Mitchell's outside edge and Gurbaz did the rest. PNG's top order also had no answers to the left-armer's guile. Two of his deliveries found both edges and Gurbaz was alert to complete both offerings.

In all, out of the 12 wickets he has taken so far, seven have come in the powerplay. Out of that seven, there have been two instances of back-to-back wickets. Versus the Kiwis, he picked up a wicket in each of his three overs inside the powerplay. In all, he has returned with combined figures of 7/34 in eight overs (average of 4.85 while striking every 6.85 balls). There will be a regression to the mean at some stage but, still, these are crazy numbers to say the least.

Trott mentioned that he has received some inputs from DJ Bravo, the all-rounder who knows these conditions like the back of his hand. "He's been really good I think when he gets his line. That, with the pace and swing, he's very dangerous but I think he can bowl even better," the Englishman said. "Working with our bowling coach, Hamid Hassan, and obviously DJ Bravo for this tournament, we have seen him stand up and have some real match-winning performances."

When reporters asked Farooqi the kind of inputs Bravo has been giving (he is a consultant with the Afghan team at the World Cup), Farooqi said: "He's an old-ball bowler, for the death. But whatever I'm doing with the new ball, that's my skill. He just supports me. He says, 'you're doing good' and that's the main thing. He's giving me (tips), especially in the death, how should I bowl in the pressure time, how should I use the slower ball, how should I use the length ball."

The 23-year-old also revealed that he had turned his attention towards the World Cup during his time with Hyderabad in the IPL. "I didn't get any chance to play in the IPL but I was working on my skill, to improve my skill to do better...

"My mentality is simple. Whenever I was playing in Under-19 or Under-16, I thought, I'm not a big man, I'm not someone big and tall and bowling very fast. At that time, I was just thinking to improve my skill to do something different from the others... I was going to learn to bowl swing and that now for me is simple."

Amen.

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