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The Usman Qadir Impact

Lahore, 12 February 2021: Usman Qadir first donned Pakistan colours on 7 November last year in the first match of the three T20Is against Zimbabwe in Rawalpindi. Three days later, he took home awards for the player of the match – in the third T20I – and the player of the series after his immaculate display of leg-spin bowling, which garnered him four for 13 in four overs and eight series wicket at an average of just 7.5.

Since his debut, as many as 16 T20Is have been played across the globe – the figure subsided by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Usman has played four and Pakistan have won all of them.

In those four matches he has bagged 10 wickets – the second most behind his compatriot Haris Rauf, who has played three more matches. The 27-year-old boasts the best average (8.10), the best economy (5.40) and strikes every ninth delivery – the most frequent – amongst the bowlers who have delivered 60 or more deliveries in this window.

The stats come across as staggering, they are, after all. But those who witnessed his four outings would not be taken aback.

Usman was always going to be Babar Azam’s go-to bowler in the series against South Africa for two reasons after how he outfoxed the Zimbabwe batsmen with his speed variations and ability to beat both edges, that also after drawing the batsmen forward.

Couple that with the purchase that the Gaddafi Stadium’s surface provided to all those who rolled their fingers over the ball, Babar knew he had the desired arsenal to beat the opposition.

So when the South African openers – with Janneman Malan playing a lead role – cruised towards the 169-run target and had accumulated 51 runs from the six powerplay overs with the required run-rate and the current run-rate locked at 8.50, the Pakistan captain searched for a breakthrough and turned towards Usman.

The leggie obliged.

The third, fourth, and fifth balls of the seventh over displayed the art of setting up a trap.

“Staying calm and controlling nerves is important in international cricket,” Usman told pcb.com.pk. “It helps in overcoming pressure situations. I was certainly under some pressure when I got the ball, but I stuck with my plans and focused on executing them by bowling tight lines and lengths, and it reaped me the desired result.”

Usman went full with his stock delivery and googly against Malan, who had smoked eight fours and a six to race to 44 from 28 balls by then, before deceiving him his leg-break which landed on good length, brought the right-hander forward in the defensive prod and went past the leading edge of his bat, which showed its full face to knock the off-stump.

In his next over, that googly, the one which keeps the batsmen anticipating, outdid Jacques Snyman. To be fair, Snyman never looked in control facing Usman, but this delivery, which dipped in the air before ferociously turning the ‘wrong way’ after pitching and thudding on the middle stump, posed the question, which many would have struggled to answer.

The two Usman overs left South Africa two down for 61 – more importantly, more than three runs below the required run-rate of 9.91.

His next over cost 11 runs – eight of them coming from two boundaries – as South Africa fought back. The well-set pair of Reeza Hendricks and Henrich Klaasen piled up 16 runs from the 14th over and nine from before it, Babar returned to the leggie.

The leggie, once again, obliged.

The first ball, an enigmatic googly, defeated not only on-strike Klaasen, but also umpire Aleem Dar, one of the best in the business, who before that ball had an impeccable record of all 11 of his challenged decisions in T20Is going in his favour. The delivery thumped on Klaasen’s leg as he attempted to work the ball, which had pitched on off, towards leg.

He followed it up with another googly before returning to his stock ball.

“Variations play a huge role in international cricket for a leg-spinner,” Usman said. “You have to come up with the best combinations of deliveries like googly, slider, flipper and leg-break and read the batsman to know when to apply those.”

With  62 runs required from the last six overs, this over, the 15th over of the innings, went for  six runs only – four of them from a four – as half of the over went into dot balls. The upshot being Klaasen’s wicket on the second ball of the next over as the South Africa captain, despite a sweeper guarding the square-leg boundary pulled Haris Rauf’s short-pitched delivery as the pressure to score runs built up.

That Pakistan went 1-0 up in the series by the win margin of three runs, further underscores the significance of how Usman’s last over brought Pakistan back in the match.

This was Usman’s first match in Pakistan colours in his hometown. And that he was at the stadium that celebrates his father’s (the late Abdul Qadir) eternal achievements with a towering enclosure dedicated to him further served as a motivation.

“It is a proud feeling for me to play my first international match at the stadium. My father hit a memorable six in the 1987 World Cup. Playing here brought back his memory and made me miss him.”