KARACHI: Usman Khan Shinwari is an ambitious young man who believes in bowling as fast as his strappy frame allows him to. Already capped at the international level since December 2013, the left-armer from Khyber Agency still has to compete for a regular spot in the Pakistan XI.

Usman’s dream of playing the HBL Pakistan Super League final at the National Stadium this Sunday was abruptly shattered when Karachi Kings, the franchise he represents, were knocked out of the tournament by holders Islamabad United in Thursday’s first eliminator.

One of the key factors behind the Kings’ four-wicket defeat was Usman proving be the most expensive of the six bowlers used as his three overs went for 42 runs with Hussain Talat being his solitary wicket.

“On a pitch which was excellent for batting, it was tough to defend a total of 161-9,” Usman conceded while exclusively talking to Dawn on Friday. “Luck didn’t go our way as there were several moments where we could have picked up wickets. A catch was dropped and a couple of run-out opportunities were missed. In hindsight, we should have scored at least 190-210 after getting 100 in the first 10 overs with only one wicket down. We feel for our ardent supporters who have been coming to the matches here in great numbers and we are collectively extremely sorry for letting them down on last night.”

For Usman it was a case of misfortune because only four nights prior to the playoff fixture, he had single-handedly snatched a sensational one-run win for his team from the jaws of defeat when he took three wickets in the final over in which PSL finalists Quetta Gladiators needed just five runs.

“Yeah, it was certainly one of the best games of my career. I was very confident of keeping things tight in that last over. The satisfaction of winning the match doubled my enjoyment. When you have this feel-good factor going, it only adds to your confidence. But this can’t happen every time you take the field as we found out against United.”

Usman, who has played 12 One-day Internationals and 15 Twenty20s, along with fellow left-arm paceman Mohammad Amir, was the Kings’ joint second highest wicket-taker with 13 victims in nine matches each, two behind teenaged spinner Umer Khan, who played in 11 matches in his PSL debut season.

While the Kings now head back to the drawing board after yet another disappointing campaign to plan for the next PSL, Usman’s immediate task is to focus on the five-match ODI series against Australia starting next Friday in the UAE.

“It will be a good challenge for Pakistan playing against Australia who only the other day defeated India in their backyard to clinch the ODI series after being 2-0 down. We have to play our best cricket if we aspire to win against the current one-day world champions,” Usman commented. “The absence of six regular team members in this series offers great opportunity for us to prove ourselves because the World Cup is not far off and the competition for places [to make the squad] will be intensifying.”

Despite the plethora of left-arm quickies — Amir, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Junaid Khan to name a few — Usman still harbours hopes of playing in the World Cup after an indifferent series in South Africa.

“Obviously, it was hard going in the South Africa ODI series [five wickets in three matches] but since then I have worked hard both on my fitness and game. I love challenges that come my way and if everything falls into place [performance-wise], Insha’Allah I could be in the squad,” Usman said. “Playing T20 [in the PSL] stuff in the past four weeks helped me stay focused on my game which does play a key part because as a bowler’s secret to success is the rhythm.”

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2019

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