Pakistan aren’t averse to producing 19-year old pace bowlers, so when a young, raw Usman Khan made his T20 debut against Sri Lanka in UAE four years back, they thought another gem was being unearthed.
But he bowled just five overs across two innings’, not picking up a single wicket but going for 61 runs. He never returned to the fold for four long years. But Usman’s debut hadn’t come on the back of sheer talent, he had backed it up with numbers.
Plying his trade for the ZTBL, he took 5 wickets for 9 runs in a match including the prized scalps of scalps of Taufeeq Umar, Muhammad Rizwan and Misbah-ul-Haq to help his team beat Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited in the finals of the Faysal Bank T20 Cup. He turned out to be the tournament’s leading wicket-taker with 11 wickets in six games. This eventually lead to a T20 call-up but it never quite materialised into something big.
Four years later, Usman was once again recalled, this time to the One Day International side. But in his ODI debut, Hasan Ali grabbed the spotlight while he was content playing a second fiddle role although he did manage to scalp his first big International wicket.
With Pakistan having won the series 4-0, Usman knew he would get to play the last match. The youngster knew that if he needed to knock down the selector’s doors this was the opportunity. He had waited four long years for this chance and wasn’t going to let this go.
Rumbling in, with a neat action and near perfect follow through, Usman Khan reminds one of the great Pakistani bowlers of the early 1990s. He is a left-arm seamer but is quite different from the likes of Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan, relying on swing and seam movement from slightly back of the length.
In his first over, in the fifth and final ODI, Usman found the big breakthrough when he had Sadeera Samarawickrama bowled off an inside edge courtesy some movement into the batsman. Usman is known around domestic circles for his ability to seam the ball around but had shown little of that in his short stint in International cricket thus far. Today was different though. It had to be. With Pakistan boasting of a long line of pace bowlers, Usman wasn’t going to get many chances. He had to make this one count.
Next ball, he had Dinesh Chandimal fishing with an angled delivery that went with the seam without the inward movement. The Lankan batsman missed the prod and the outside edge was found as Sri Lanka lost two in the first over in pursuit of a face-saving win.
Another youngster shines! Terrific bowling spell Usman Khan Shinwari. Great team in the making. ??
— Najam Sethi (@najamsethi) October 23, 2017
Usman was by now on a roll. He had found the rhythm and tempo in his run-up, there was a spring in his steps and the plans were finally beginning to fall into place. Yet, when Upul Tharanga dispatched the hat-trick ball for four, one thought that Usman’s big haul was done. Little did the World know the fury that was about to be unleashed in all its beauty.
There is no better sight in World cricket than a fast bowler running in with an impeccable plan to get the batsman out, bouncing, swinging, seaming and teasing him into making a mistake. The great fast bowlers of Pakistan cricket were bestowed with that skill in aplenty. They were known to produce these kinds of bowlers. Usman just hadn’t seemed like one until today when he threw all of that preconceived notions to the winds.
Two balls after the hat-trick ball was dispatched, Tharanga was cleaned up mercilessly, his middle stump uprooted in the most ruthless fashion. Another inswinger two balls later and Niroshan Dickwella was walking back with Sri Lanka’s total just on 9. Usman Khan was having a dream run. He had all four of the wickets to fall to his name. By the seventh over, and in his 20th ball, Milinda Siriwardana played a horror cover drive to gift Usman his maiden five-for.
Usman Khan Shinwari's 5-34 is the best bowling figures in ODIs by a Pakistan left-arm pacer who is not Wasim Akram. #PakvSL
— Mazher Arshad (@MazherArshad) October 23, 2017
Only one fast bowler had taken a five-wicket haul in ODIs at a quicker pace (Chaminda Vaas against Bangladesh in the 2003 World Cup – in 16 balls). And this was just Usman’s second match. He knelt down onto the pitch, thanked his Gods and resumed bowling. If Sarfraz had persisted with him after his initial five-over spell, he may have had more. He ended with figures of 7-0-34-5 but it was his opening spell that tore the Lankans and whitewashed them white and blue.
This wasn’t some victory. This was a win nurtured by some outstanding fast bowling, the kind of quality that only Pakistan bowlers are known to dish out.
“It was not that easy. I’m gaining confidence with every opportunity I’m getting. I want to perform well and that’s my desire no matter which side I play for. Dad forced me to play cricket and today I look back and feel happy for myself for whatever I’ve done. I’m dedicating this special performance [7 overs 34 runs 5 wickets] to my parents. The coach and the staff keep telling me to focus on the basics and that’s what I try to do”, Usman said at the post-match presentation ceremony after receiving his maiden Man of the Match award.
His captain, overjoyed at the sensational spell Usman had produced could only manage a few words. “Usman was absolutely brilliant. He won us the game in the first 10 overs and the rest was just a formality.”
[fve] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlN0_gob4ns [/fve]
What was expected to be a match for Sri Lanka to show their fight turned out to be a one-man show as the left-arm seamer, playing just his second ODI, ripped apart the Lankans on a pitch that was supposedly good for batting. Pakistan did prove that it was true when they slammed home the runs in 20 overs with nine wickets to spare. Sri Lanka might have faltered with the bat, playing false strokes after class strokes but nothing can be taken away from the rejuvenated Usman Khan, who delighted the cricketing world with his screaming spell.