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Feature

Cool-headed Aamer Jamal has something different to offer this Pakistan side

He doesn't have great numbers in domestic cricket, but the selectors saw his bravery he repaid their faith

Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq
29-Sep-2022
'I was asked about my plans [for the 20th over] and I said that I will only do what I have in my command'  •  AFP/Getty Images

'I was asked about my plans [for the 20th over] and I said that I will only do what I have in my command'  •  AFP/Getty Images

Before his international debut on Wednesday, Aamer Jamal had played just 12 domestic T20s, taking 14 wickets with an economy rate of 9.17. With the bat, he had scored 237 runs (strike rate: 176.86) in two seasons. He had played no games in the PSL. This was essentially the weight of domestic performances that secured his national selection. On the surface, those numbers don't scream out Pakistan selection but picking him is a reminder of how Pakistan often pick their players. This decision is driven by an instinctive understanding - often on intangible qualities like a player being dalaair (brave, big-hearted) rather than just taking player performance into account.
So though his numbers may not have added up to a selection, the two overs he bowled against England on Wednesday night at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium hinted at his potential. Those moderate domestic stats took a back seat with him rising to the occasion on the international stage.
The game was crucially poised until the 14th over. Moeen Ali was intent on taking England deep into their faltering chase of 146. Pakistan had used five bowlers. Mohammad Nawaz, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Wasim had six overs remaining between them, and Jamal was yet to bowl - which meant either he wouldn't bowl, or was destined to bowl the difficult overs.
This was the moment Pakistan captain Babar Azam pulled him in to bowl the 15th. He made an impression immediately, picking up his first international wicket (Sam Curran) off his second ball in international cricket. He ended up conceding only five runs in that over, and never let the momentum slip away. He wasn't given another over until the final one, left to defend 14 against Moeen.
Hands on their heads, standing on their toes, the home fans at the stadium weren't sure if the new boy could pull this off. He would never have been in such a pressure situation on the field before. Nobody really knew what he was capable of.
"Bobby bhai [Babar] asked me 'what will you do' and I said 'I will bowl wide yorkers,'" he recalled in a video for the PCB website. "He asked 'can you do it?' I said 'yes definitely I can.' He then gave me the field and insisted to stick with the plan regardless of the wide ball."
Jamal managed to find the wide line as planned, and executed as he meant to, thus keep England just out of reach. He bowled four dots, conceding just eight runs. It wasn't a typical Pakistan pace flurry. No staring, no trash talk, no bullying, just some smart and accurate medium-pace bowling, sticking to a plan. The nearly full Gaddafi stadium, with oscillating emotions, erupted eventually as Pakistan took a series lead of 3-2 with two matches remaining.

****

Who is Aamer Jamal? Pakistan selected two uncapped players for this series - the other was Abrar Ahmed, the mystery spinner who has played in the PSL and who we might see later on. Neither are in the T20 World Cup squad, but Pakistan have taken the home series as an opportunity to unearth a fast-bowling allrounder with Faheem Ashraf, someone they seemed to have invested in, suddenly out of favor.
The selection of Jamal in the playing XI however was never guaranteed as it was always subject to circumstances around how the ongoing series panned out. Naseem Shah got pneumonia and was hospitalised - and is now Covid-19 positive - making room for Jamal to make his debut. It wasn't until the eve of the fifth T20I that he was told about his upcoming debut. "I have so many happy words inside me which I can't articulate right now, this is the kind of excitement about my debut," he said. "When I was told by Saqi bhai [Saqlain Mushtaq, head coach] I was like almost crying. I was asked about my plans and I said that I will only do what I have in my command and I won't go out and do what I can't. I will stay within my strengths and whatever is natural to me I will stick to it."
'It wasn't a typical Pakistan pace flurry. No staring, no trash talk, no bullying, just some smart and accurate medium-pace bowling, sticking to a plan.'
Born in Mianwali but raised in Rawalpindi, Jamal played most of his cricket in and around Islamabad. He broke into the domestic circuit in 2013 playing in the inter-region Under-19 and departmental Under-19 tournaments. He first shot to prominence with the Pakistan Under-19 team, taking 30 wickets at 16.96 in five matches in the 2014 inter-regional tournament. He also played a three-match series against the touring Afghanistan Under-19s - a side that included Rashid Khan - but Jamal didn't make much impact and faded away.
He remained in the lower reaches of domestic cricket before resurfacing to make his first-class debut in 2018 for Pakistan Television, picking up 17 wickets at 28.82 and in the last two seasons - 2020 and 2021 - he played 10 games to take 11 wickets at 47.18 and scored 341 runs, with one half-century. Most of his runs were scored at No. 8. The Pakistan call-up has been unexpected, but he's begun as if he means to make the most of it.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent