Fazalhaq Farooqi: Getting into the swing of things | Crickit
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Fazalhaq Farooqi: Getting into the swing of things

By, New Delhi
Jun 19, 2024 05:27 PM IST

Rashid Khan has helped Afghanistan raise a host of spinners but now the pacers are coming through as well

Owing to Rashid Khan’s overwhelming impact in T20 cricket, the image that you are likely to associate with an Afghanistan bowler is of a wily wrist spinner or difficult-to-read mystery spinner bamboozling the batter with a bag of tricks.

Afghanistan's Fazalhaq Farooqi bowls during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group C cricket match between the West Indies and Afghanistan at Daren Sammy Cricket Ground (AFP)
Afghanistan's Fazalhaq Farooqi bowls during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group C cricket match between the West Indies and Afghanistan at Daren Sammy Cricket Ground (AFP)

Rashid, the high priest of Afghanistan’s spin bowling riches, is expectedly leading the wicket-taking charts of this young cricketing nation, having claimed 142 scalps in 88 matches at an excellent economy of six runs per over.

But proof that Afghanistan are also making headway in the seam bowling department comes from the emergence of left-arm pacer Fazalhaq Farooqi at this T20 World Cup. Now, Farooqi isn’t exactly a complete greenhorn in international cricket. He is just 23 years old, yes, but he has done enough since making his debut in 2021 to be fifth on the list of their highest wicket-takers – he is one shy of 50 scalps after 38 matches. He has played a handful of IPL games for Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2022 and 2023 too.

But it is only now that Farooqi is really coming into his own at the highest level. To be fair, pacer Naveen-ul-Haq has also done his bit in recent years – we aren’t just referring to his run-in with Virat Kohli – to grab some attention (he has 51 wickets in 41 matches). But there’s something about a left-arm pacer swinging the ball into the right-hand batter at decent pace that immediately turns heads.

Farooqi did just that against New Zealand, finishing with outstanding figures of 4/17 in four overs to help Afghanistan claim an emphatic victory that was pivotal to their progress to the Super Eight stage. He also took 5/9 against Uganda and 3/16 against Papua New Guinea. Lesser opponents alright, but 12 scalps in total have propelled Farooqi to the top wicket-taker of the tournament.

The highlights of his opening spell against the Kiwis at the Providence Stadium in Guyana are particularly worth rewatching. Defending just 160, Afghanistan’s bowlers didn’t have a lot of cushion and thus needed early wickets. Farooqi struck off the first ball of the innings, beating Finn Allen’s booming drive with a big inswinger that sent the leg stump cartwheeling. To the left-hand batter Devon Conway, Farooqi’s natural shape took the ball away. More than the swing though, Conway’s downfall – he was caught at cover – came about because of the ball holding in the surface.

To top it off in that spell, Farooqi went around the wicket to right-handed Daryl Mitchell in the fifth over. With the ball coming in with the angle, Mitchell covered for the line, only for the ball to straighten and take his outside edge through to wicketkeeper Rahmanullah Gurbaz. New Zealand were 28/3 and hurtled to an 84-run defeat.

“I think the way he (Fazal) bowled in the last two games is great, he has given all of us a great start in the last two games,” Rashid said after that performance. “He is giving us the base we want. Especially in T20s, the Powerplay is very important. And the way Farooqi has bowled in the last two games is amazing. He is a very skilful bowler. He still needs to improve a lot of things but once he understands how skilful he is, he is going to be very dangerous in future.”

In their final group game against West Indies on Monday night, Farooqi encountered the other side of being a bowler in the shortest format when his three overs were punished for 38 runs. There was swing on offer, but Farooqi would have learned that the tendency to bowl a fuller length and hunt for wickets can also have its downside.

That shouldn’t deter him. If he can keep swinging the ball and taking early wickets, Afghanistan’s spin attack will be well placed to stamp its dominance over the opposition in those middle overs. And maybe, just maybe, a left-armer swinging the ball and hitting the stumps will also become a familiar image in Afghanistan’s cricketing landscape.

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