June 10, 2023

Over the last month, the Pakistan YouTube, a zany little rabbit-hole, could suck you in for hours. Eyebrows would stretch up hearing Urdu slang-expletives directed at Babar Azam’s team. It was a noisy platform where amateurs and ex-players unite in a war against their team, conducting a virtual public hanging at the altar of digital democracy.

Those rabid YouTubers have a cuss-word moniker for most. Rizwan is leg-side lapadu, for his preference to drag balls to the on side. Asif Ali was Asif Tulla and in Aquib Javed’s words “didn’t they teach him how to stop a straight ball?’. Iftikhar Ahmed is Chachu – his official age (32) had even Waqar Younis exclaim in surprise.

Everyone has a less-than-flattering internet name – but not Haris Rauf, not Naseem Shah, not Shaheen Afridi. Not even Shadab Khan. Even the highly combustible YouTubers know where to draw the line. No one messes with Pakistan’s bowlers. And it is the combined strength of the bowling department that makes one look ahead, speculate about their potential and potency in the 50-overs contest.

If the wondrous line-up of fast bowlers can trigger earthquakes in opposition camps in 2-over spells, what will they do in longer spells, with the threat of the return spell looming large? In the T20 final, with just 138 to defend and England already reaching 40/2, not many teams would have given a scare. And it’s this that makes Pakistan the firm favourites for the 50-over ODI World Cup next year in India.

There was a moment in the World T20 final that captured the hidden strength of the Pakistan pace attack. Naseem, in his second spell, was unplayable. He would trigger a sudden frenzy on the other pace jocks. As if made aware of their own strengths, the rest jump in on this possibility to create a spectacle where the world shakes their heads and the opposition seem willing to self combust. The mentally tough English all-rounder Ben Stokes, a bonafide last action hero, ensured it would stay a mirage and didn’t let the illusion cloud his mind. Not every team has a Stokes, though.

Hailed by Andy Roberts, worked by Mudassar Nazar first and later by Waqar Younis, Naseem started to harass Buttler. Watching him and getting excited was Rauf, from the boundary edge, mind you, not at the comfort of mid-on.

From there, his eyes would bulge and the fingers twist into indecipherable arcs like a mad man standing at the centre of traffic, looking directly at you inside an autorickshaw and casting a strange spell. Naseem picked up the vibe, would turn at the top of his mark, and run in to produce more venom. Then as he would walk back, a knowing look would be cast at the spellcaster far away, the two clasped in a fast bowling bubble with their own language. Then Rauf came on.

For a fast bowler, there is an enchanting moment as he approaches the crease to load up. To get into a side-on position that he favours, he almost turns and hurriedly stutters on, as if he were squeezing through a small opening in a gully, and gets into a great position to hurl the ball with a fascinating wrist-snap.

That wrist crackle allows him to swing, seam, change lengths, bounce, and unleash his wizardry. With Shaheen Afridi, there is no surprise. A good batsman should be able to pick his lengths; it’s the killer late movement that does them in. Hence Buttler, with his wristy style, didn’t have much problems. But with Rauf, even good batsmen can’t relax even when settled. That awesomely demonic wrist-snap can get them anytime. Like Buttler found out.

He saw Naseem harassing Buttler with his away-shapers and as soon as he came on next over, he knew there was no point in reprising the youngster’s unplayable balls; but he had to take the edge. So he produced a lovely straightener, reminiscent of Manoj Prabhakar’s delivery to nip out Zahid Fazal in the 1992 World Cup game, to take down Buttler. He then had Ben Stokes smile sheepishly after a few play and misses. So did Naseem.

Pakistan’s batting, mostly the top order, is more suited for longer white ball contests. By next October, when 50-overs World Cup madness will hit India, they will be wiser..

Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan don’t have to hurry themselves. For some reason, despite obvious skill, they like to start sedately, as if they are sipping early morning chai in pathani suits. Perhaps, it’s the fear about their middle-order or maybe they were never the sorts who scrambled after buses that have just left the bus-stop. “Ek aur aayegi, kya hai (One more will roll in soon)” – must be their philosophy.


Much of the YouTube ire was about their middle order and the England 150 kph bowling machine Mark Wood in particular helped Pakistan to weed out a few weaklings during a feisty bumper-happy series in Pakistan ahead of the World Cup. Luckily, it helped them give chance to Shan Masood, who looks as secure as a young Kumar Sangakkara, and there is always the calmness of Iftikhar Ahmed, aka Chacha, the Misbah-ul-Haq of this decade.

Soon, came the dashing Mohammad Haris whose first five balls on an incredibly nerveless debut against a team of Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada was .. 6, 6, 4, 6. He seems Imran Nazir-ish but with better control over nerves and a better shot-selection. If these five can still be there for the ODI World Cup, then with the all-rounders Shadab Khan, the heartbeat of the team in some ways on the field, and the left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz, who will be more potent in subcontinental conditions, Pakistan would be more most balanced side of the tournament.

If Naseem fades away a touch in the ensuing months, Pakistan won’t worry; they have the talented Hasnain Mohammad, the excitable Shahnawaz Dahani and the steady Mohammad Wasim Jr and more at PSL who can do the job.

It would come down to the three batsmen from No.3 to No.5 then for Pakistan’s immediate future in white-ball cricket. Haris and Masood look set for now, Iftikhar will hopefully be given more time but this is Pakistan, so let’s see.

Even Masood will find the heat turning on him if he doesn’t manage to get a few boundaries in the ODIs in the middle overs. But if these three can hold their heads – and Pakistan are likely to send Shadab to pinch-hit even in ODIs, they can produce a total and throw the baton to their wondrous pack to defend.

Then, just sit on the edge of the seat, or better stand up and gape at those men from across the border with magic in their wrists, bit of zaniness in their eyes, smart brains on toast – none of these fast bowlers really cuss at the batsmen. They don’t have to. In Pakistan, they have outsourced the cussing to the former players and YouTubers. These men just run up, hurl the ball, startle and harass the batsmen with a smile on their lips and the cricketing world on their feet.

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