Pak vs Afg 1st T20I: The first of the three T20Is between Pakistan and Afghanistan will take place on Friday at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, with Pakistan announcing a dynamic XI featuring four debutants.
Making their Pakistan debuts are opener Saim Ayub, middle-order batter Tayyab Tahir, and right-arm quicks Zaman Khan and Ihsanullah. Meanwhile, top-order batter Abdullah Shafique, all-rounders Faheem Ashraf and Imad Wasim, and Azam Khan are returning to the Pakistan side.
These eight players were selected for the 15-member squad for this T20I series based on their impressive performances in the domestic circuit and the recently-concluded HBL Pakistan Super League 8. The upcoming series presents an opportunity for them to extend their excellent form to international cricket.
Saim Ayub, a 20-year-old native of Karachi, will open alongside Mohammad Haris, who has played five T20Is for Pakistan and impressed in the last ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia with his aggressive batting. Saim and Haris have previously played together for Peshawar Zalmi during HBL PSL 8, and Saim earned his spot in the national team following a highly impressive run for Sindh and Peshawar Zalmi.
The left-handed batsman played a crucial role in helping Sindh win the National T20 championship, scoring 416 runs in 12 matches at a strike rate of 155.22. He also impressed at the top of the order for Peshawar Zalmi during HBL PSL, smashing 341 runs with a strike rate of 165.53, which included five half-centuries – the joint-most in the season alongside Babar Azam.
Speaking about his debut, Saim expressed his excitement and nervousness, acknowledging that he never expected to play for Pakistan this early but is determined to make the most of this opportunity. He emphasized the importance of a good start in T20 cricket, regardless of the opposition, and plans to assess the conditions quickly and make an impact with his partner Mohammad Haris. Saim and Haris have played together for Peshawar Zalmi and share a similar playing style of dominating the opposition.
Abdullah Shafique and Tayyab Tahir are slated to bat at number three and four, respectively. Abdullah, who has played three T20Is for Pakistan, returns to the side after scoring 268 runs at a strike rate of 144.08 for Lahore Qalandars in the recently-concluded HBL PSL. He scored two half-centuries, including one in the final against Multan Sultans.
Tayyab has been in excellent form over the past year, making a remarkable debut in HBL PSL 8 with a quickfire 65 and finishing as the top scorer in the Pakistan Cup with 137 runs at a strike rate of 144.21. He was awarded the player of the final for his match-winning 71 for Central Punjab. Moreover, he accumulated 708 runs in first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, smashing four centuries and a half-century at an average of 59.
“I have always looked up to the players who represent Pakistan, and it is a dream come true for me to be a part of the national squad,” said Tayyab ahead of Pak vs Afg 1st t20I. “It gives me immense pleasure to represent my country. I am sure my parents will be proud of me when they see me playing.”
Although Tayyab admitted to feeling nervous ahead of his debut, he was confident that his experience in competitive domestic cricket and HBL PSL would help him overcome those nerves.
The middle-order consists of Shadab Khan, Azam Khan, Faheem Ashraf, and Imad Wasim.
Azam Khan, Tayyab’s teammate in HBL PSL for Islamabad United, had a fantastic season with the bat, scoring 282 runs at an outstanding strike rate of 161.14. He notched his highest score of 97 against Quetta Gladiators at the National Stadium Karachi. This will be Azam’s fourth T20I match.
Faheem Ashraf, Azam Khan’s HBL PSL teammate, provided balance to the side with his all-round abilities. He scored 215 runs at a strike rate of 149.30 and picked up eight wickets at an economy rate of 9.50, in a tournament that had the highest run rate of 9.20 in the last year among any major T20 leagues worldwide.
Imad’s Karachi Kings stint was not only successful with the ball but also with the bat. The left-hander amassed 404 runs at an exceptional average of 134.66 and a staggering strike rate of 170.46. In addition to his all-round performance, the 34-year-old has played 58 T20Is, where he has taken 55 wickets at an average of 23.49 and an economy of 6.33.
Leading the pace attack will be the experienced Naseem Shah, who will be accompanied by newcomers Zaman and Ihsanullah. Zaman’s excellent performances in the Powerplay and death overs make him a valuable addition to the squad.
He defended 13 runs off the last over to help Lahore Qalandars clinch their second consecutive HBL PSL title and took 15 wickets at 23.60 runs per dismissal and an economy of 8.53 in the recent season. Zaman expressed his excitement and eagerness to play for his country and acknowledged the guidance provided by bowling coach Umer Gul, who advised him to hit the hard length on the Sharjah wicket.
Ihsanullah, a reliable pace bowler from Pakistan, proved his mettle by delivering thunderbolts during the middle-overs of the HBL PSL 8. His lethal bouncers kept the opposition on the backfoot, and he became the first bowler in the tournament to pick a five-wicket haul. He emerged as the best player and best bowler of the tournament, having taken 22 wickets (the second most) at an average of only 15.77 runs per wicket. Moreover, he conceded just 7.59 runs in the 45.4 overs he bowled, the least among the top five wicket-takers.
Ihsanullah, who hails from the village of Matta in Swat, expressed his delight in fulfilling his parents’ dream of playing for Pakistan. He also shared that his experience of playing in the HBL PSL against players from all around the world, including Afghanistan, has prepared him well for international cricket.
The first Afghanistan T20I will feature the following Pakistan XI: Saim Ayub, Mohammad Haris, Abdullah Shafique, Tayyab Tahir, Shadab Khan (c), Azam Khan (wk), Faheem Ashraf, Imad Wasim, Naseem Shah, Zaman Khan, and Ihsanullah.
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