Mohammad Abbas
Mohammad Abbas

Mohammad Asif may have lived a troubled life and earned a reputation of a scoundrel, but Mohammad Abbas has been nothing but a cricketing inspiration. It was while he was playing for the Sialkot team that Abbas learned the tricks of the trade from Asif.

When Michael Atherton called Abbas to receive the Man of the Match award after the Lord’s victory and asked him about his similarity to Asif he said: “Yes, McGrath and Asif are my ideals. I have played with Asif in Pakistan and learned a lot from him. I try to follow his bowling and I get success.”

There are not many individuals out there who work in a leather factory or law firm as a helper and go on to follow their dreams and represent their country in a sport which is religiously followed by millions. Abbas is one such example.

One knows the importance of a toss in a cricket match, but one can hardly imagine the role of a ‘toss’ in deciding the fate of a cricketer. Once there was a tie between Abbas and a son of a bigwig for the selection of the playing eleven in a regional under-19 tournament. The choice came down to a coin toss. Maybe Abbas was destined for glory, so fate worked in his favour and he was selected. Since that day, as they say, there has been no looking back.

Precision personified, Mohammad Abbas seems to be destined for great things in cricket

Hailing from Jathekey, a village near Sialkot in Punjab, Abbas began playing for the Sialkot team. He made his first class debut against Abbottabad in February 2009. It took almost eight years of a tough grind and long bowling spells at the first-class level before he could don the coveted ‘green’ Test cap.

Abbas made his Test debut at Kingston, Jamaica in April 2017 and got the wicket of Kraigg Brathwaite on the second ball of his Test career. Talking to a journalist in England he said, “I will never forget that wicket. It is a memory which will remain with me for the rest of my life.”

Abbas’s personality may give you the impression of a soft and polite individual, but his bowling on a cricket pitch is far from ‘soft’. Accuracy and precision are his forte. He can deceive even the shrewdest of batsmen with his bowling. He’s not the typical Pakistani pacer of the 1980s and ’90s. He is more of a product of domestic cricket, where the game is being played on green tops and with Duke balls.

He’s a ‘silent assassin’ — sans any gimmickry or signature celebration. He doesn’t mimic ‘starting a generator.’ He doesn’t slap his thigh like a kabaddi player. But he’s thrilling to watch nonetheless. He fit like a glove in the Lord’s setting where traditions and protocols are still considered of utmost importance.

He’s the kind of a bowler who gets the job done. No wonder his captains love to have him in their side. Misbah-ul-Haq, who had a knack for picking up talent in domestic matches, was quite fond of Abbas. He wanted him in the team in 2016, but it was not until the West Indies tour in 2017 that he was able to convince the selection cognoscenti. Ironically, Abbas’s first tour became Misbah’s last assignment with the Pakistan team.

One must give credit to the cricket board which facilitated him in signing a contract with Leicestershire before the recently concluded Pakistan tour of the UK. It helped him immensely in acclimatising before the important tour. In one of his post-match interviews he admitted as much. “My stint at Leicester helped me a lot,” he said, “I got used to the conditions which gave me success. I thank the PCB for allowing me to come here before the start of the tour. I was in constant touch with Azhar Mehmood [bowling coach] through WhatsApp and his suggestions helped me a lot.”

He successfully carried his county experience into three Tests played in the UK by taking 19 wickets — nine against Ireland and 10 against England. Amid all of this success there was still something to be desired. At the end of the Lord’s Test he said, “It was my aim to get my name on the Lord’s famous honours boards. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that but I thank the Almighty that I was named Man of the Match in front of a packed Lord’s stadium.”

He also said, “Dismissing Cook and Root were most satisfying. I had targeted them in my mind before the start of the series.”

Abbas needs eight more wickets to reach the 50 Test wickets mark and, if he accomplishes this remarkable feat in his next Test match, he will equal the record of Yasir Shah and break Waqar Younis’s record of the fastest fifty wickets in Tests. There is much success waiting to come his way.

The writer tweets @CaughtAtPoint

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 24th, 2018

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