Imad Wasim (C) celebrates with captain Babar Azam (L) after taking the wicket of New Zealand’s Will Young during the fourth Twenty20 international cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in Rawalpindi, on April 20. — AFP

Unique Imad showing his worth as he makes up for lost time

All-rounder is a divisive figure but remains a bowler like no other.
Published April 21, 2023

They say that if you come at the king, then you better kill the king. And Imad Wasim definitely came at the king when he criticised his former Karachi Kings teammate Babar Azam before the start of this Pakistan Super League (PSL).

For all intents and purposes, it seemed that those words were just confirming what everyone had suspected — Imad’s international career was over. He had not played for Pakistan since 2021 and he had just said some less than complimentary words about the country’s undisputed darling and national team captain. The country’s best all-rounder of his generation seemed doomed to spend his last few years in international wilderness.

It says a lot about Babar the man and Imad the player that Imad has been given a chance to return to the side, and he has quickly gone about showing Pakistan exactly what they were missing in his absence. Imad’s replacement, Muhammad Nawaz, is a wonderfully gifted cricketer in his own right, but he is no Imad and there have been times in the past few years when that has been painfully obvious.

One of the best things about being an all-rounder is that you can impact the game in both innings of the match. The best all-rounders usually come in two types. Those who more likely than not will contribute in every match with either bat or ball, or those who may not perform with such regularity but on their day can completely take the game away from the opposition with whirlwind displays.

Pakistan fans can tend to favour the latter, a certain Shahid Afridi being the prominent modern example. An all-rounder who, almost through sheer force of will, could dominate both innings of a game with all-action displays that are still etched into our collective minds. On the other hand, you have the likes of Imad who may not be able to take the game by the scruff of the neck in quite the thrilling manner that your Afridis could, but they will provide handy contributions more regularly. Such all-rounders are perhaps even more important to the demands of the modern T20I game where those who perform day-in and day-out worth their weight in gold.

Imad forced his way back into international contention with some inspired batting performances in the PSL but what makes him so special is that he such a unique spinner. Few spinners can bowl in the powerplay and even fewer can bowl with the kind of suffocating accuracy that Imad has made his calling card — only four bowlers with 50 T20I wickets have a better economy rate than Imad’s 6.28.

Ever since he returned to the fold in T20I cricket earlier in the year against Afghanistan, Imad has been Pakistan’s standout bowler. He picked up important wickets at crucial junctures on spin-friendly conditions in Sharjah before bringing that form into the home series against New Zealand.

That was until the third T20I against New Zealand in which Imad struggled with both bat and ball. New Zealand spinners took the game away from Pakistan and Imad was the poorest of all four spinners to bowl at the Gaddafi on Monday as the visitors made it 2-1 in the series. He then made three off five with the bat when a more significant contribution may have meant that Iftikhar Ahmed’s remarkable 60 off 24 did not go to waste.

Imad made amends for that in the fourth T20I in conditions that the Islamabad-born will be more than familiar with. Imad managed to extract something from a Rawalpindi pitch on which the average score during the PSL was 209. If Shaheen Shah Afridi gets hit for three boundaries in his first over then you know the pitch has precious little to offer.

Yet Imad was impeccable and broke New Zealand’s back very early on, taking a wicket in each of his first three overs and giving away only 12 runs in them to ensure the Kiwis never got going on a batting paradise. Don’t let Imad’s figures of 3-19 in four overs fool you about who this pitch favoured — the other five bowlers combined for figures of 2-145 in 14.5 overs despite Imad’s three early wickets.

Since his return, Imad has taken eight wickets in seven matches for 103 runs at an incredible average of 12.87 and an economy of 5.72. That he has done so while also being the side’s top-scorer in two of the six matches he has batted just shows how purple this Imad patch is.

An abandoned game means that Pakistan can no longer lose the series, but the hosts would have been terribly disappointed when hailstorm caused the game to be abandoned. Pakistan would have been confident of restricting New Zealand to under 180 when the match was stopped at 164-5 with seven balls remaining, and Babar and co would have surely been licking their lips at the prospect of chasing down a target of under 200 on this pitch. That the hosts were in that strong position in the first place was all down to Imad, a bowler like no other.

The author is a freelance journalist