The Uncrowned Cricket Messiah-Zulqarnain Haider

On a horrendous day for Pakistan cricket, when everything was going down the drain for the Pakistani batsmen, the team had sunk to an abysmal score of 101 with six wickets down. Pakistan were already way behind from where they should or maybe where they could have been, a deficit of over 150 runs already haunted them as play commenced on the third day, courtesy a ridiculously poor show in the first inning and 251 runs by the English team. In the meanwhile, a tall and lanky wicket keeper batsman walked in .What the world had seen of him was only the first inning duck that he scored and quite a clean bit of wicket keeping that he did in the first inning. This man was considered as the best replacement for wicketkeeper, Kamran Akmal, who was struggling with getting his runs as well as seeing the ball into his gloves. This meant that Zulqarnain had a point to prove here and having scored a duck in his first inning of his debut match, there was tremendous amount of pressure on his young shoulders. Whether he would get a king pair or not remained to be seen. And this was definitely playing on the mind of the debutant. Anyhow, a few looks here and there and also one good look at the bowler were enough for Zulqarnain to get himself ready and take his stance. With a formidable seam attack in James Anderson and Stuart Broad as well as the lethal off spinner, Graeme Swann, who had done most of the damage, this was going to be a litmus test for young Zulqarnain.

First ball bowled by Graeme Swann passed the edge of Zulqarnain’s bat and hit his pads. A loud cogent appeal from the players followed and to Zulqarnain’s surprise who stood his ground unmoved and comfortable, the umpire raised his finger to signal Zulqarnain’s dismissal. Many would have expected a highly bemused and shaky response from a youngster who was already on a pair and was given out as soon as he walked in to play his inning, but Zulqarnain decided to review the decision and the judgment was overturned as a huge NOT OUT appeared on the big screen. Quite a bit of ‘boos’ followed the decision but Zulqarnain was not bothered. He seemed to know very well what he was out there for and showed a cool and calm character. A wry smile on the innocent face belied the nerves that were dangling and expecting a tough competition by the English who were fired up and ready to take apart the lower order that seemed to be the only form of resistance left for Pakistan. This was the only stutter in the debutante’s inning though. What followed was an impressive knock and Zulqarnain seemed to make the most of his survival on the crease. Zulqarnain showed a cool and calm approach towards building his inning and tried to play the ball dead straight (right out of the coaching manual as they would call it). He was comfortable in seeing off the spinner and started to hit the faster men with a straight bat. Such ease and intent was shown by the batsman that the English bowlers started to get frustrated with this unexpected show by the youngster, so much so that Stuart Broad picked up the ball and threw it at Zulqarnain. The only response to this brutal act was a raised eye brow by the batsman, but he continued with the job at hand without any worries. The youngster tried all the shots in his armory and started to milk runs off the opposition with ease and grace. Calm and patient under immense pressure, Zulqarnain reached his fifty in great style. Raising his bat, he signaled to the dressing room that if they could not produce a knock, so what? He was up for the challenge and with his partner on the other end, Zulqarnain helped post a decent lead for Pakistan. Together with Saeed Ajmal, who scored his maiden half century in the match, Zulqarnain put on a 100 run partnership.

Saeed Ajmal fell to the bowling of Graeme Swann and soon Zulqarnain also scooped one in the air and was caught by the English captain who gleefully accepted this generous chance that the English had been waiting for, ever so desperately. There was not anything to review this time as Zulqarnain looked back at the pitch and thought, only if I had hung around a bit more. But that is what defines the game of cricket: days of burgeoning success and at times, spells of horror. For now, Zulqarnain had done his part and hence, all and sundry gave the youngster a deserving standing ovation as he made his way back to the pavilion. Zulqarnain had become the man of the moment, a warrior, a Messiah, indeed. He had scored an absolutely magnificent 88 to get his side in the lead. Many would have argued that Kamran was a bigger and better name and that Zulqarnain was still too raw to be introduced to such a grand set up, but Zulqarnain was the man who overcame all odds and proved just exactly why he was part of the side. Unfortunately, Pakistan did not have much to smile about after this magical knock by Zulqarnain as England eased to a 9-wicket win. However, this wonderful cameo by Zulqarnain sent a clear message to the Pakistani selection and to the rest of the world that he was not around just to make the numbers.

Luck favors the brave, they say. Indeed, the luck Zulqarnain got with the decision that turned in his favor benefited him a great deal and helped him build in stature. This, in turn helped the lower order transform a likely innings defeat into a potentially tricky score of 118 runs. One thing is for sure, win and loss aside, this splendid inning by the debutante will always be remembered by Zulqarnain and also might well occupy the minds of the English for quite some time. Now it is important for the Pakistani management to take this performance seriously and they need to do justice to this Messiah and let him unveil his talent in order to continue from where he left from so that these 88s can turn into match winning centuries for Pakistan.

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