Faheem Ashraf - So much more than a dibbly-dobbler

He provides control with the ball and has the ability to make match-defining runs with the bat

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Faheem Ashraf considers himself a bowling allrounder 'till the day I retire' and wasn't fussed that he missed out on another century  •  PCB

Faheem Ashraf considers himself a bowling allrounder 'till the day I retire' and wasn't fussed that he missed out on another century  •  PCB

It would be unfair and absurd to compare Faheem Ashraf to Jacques Kallis, Garry Sobers, Ben Stokes or Andrew Flintoff. So we might as well begin with that.
Two of those four have a solid claim to being England's greatest allrounder, while the other two boast numbers that put him comfortably within GOAT territory. Ashraf, meanwhile, is a man who has never batted above No. 7, taken six of his 16 wickets in one Test, and never entirely convinced former head coach Mickey Arthur that he could score much at all. And yet, in his eighth Test, he top-scored for Pakistan - an unbeaten 78 that put them in charge against South Africa. It was his fourth half-century; none of that quartet considered allrounder royalty crossed 50 more than twice at this stage of their careers.
Flippant factoids aside, Ashraf has gone from being a Test reject - shunned from the format for the best part of two years - to the key that balances a side which regularly plays at least one bowler or batsmen short. He has brought solidity to a lower order that comprised as many as three No. 11s for several Tests during his absence, and alleviated pressure off bowlers who found themselves overworked, particularly while Yasir Shah suffered something of a slump in form, as he did lately.
Asfraf's value to the side is evident while the other cogs in the machine function as desired - as they have seemed to for the most part this series. But it was equally useful during Pakistan's miserable tour of New Zealand, when Ashraf looked to be batting on a different wicket to the side that didn't collectively reach three-figures till the 66th over in the first Test, smashing a career-best 134-ball 91. And when Mohammad Abbas needed to be given a rest with the ball, he deputised expertly, if not quite as probingly, allowing just 40 runs in 19 overs, and taking the none-too-insignificant wicket of Kane Williamson for good measure.
That side of the game may get a little more focus, particularly when the purple patch he is in with the bat begins to dry up, as (apologies for the negativity) it invariably will. Aside from a Test at the Wanderers where the Pakistan allrounder picked up three wickets in each innings, Ashraf has only once managed more than two in a match, and taken more than one in an innings just twice further. While his contributions to the side as a whole aren't currently in question, that still might be too little incision for a man who claimed in Friday's press conference that he "would consider himself a bowling allrounder till the day I retire". So seriously did he take that tag he brushed aside any sense of disappointment at missing out on three-figures once more.
"I started as a bowling allrounder and it's in that role that I am playing in the side," Ashraf said. "My batting is my plus point, and I am grateful that I'm performing with the bat, a discipline that I have put a lot of hard work into. I hope I'll score a hundred one day, but if it's in my fate, I'll get a hundred without even noticing it. It's not something I can control."
But there's enough Test-cricket class among the 16 wickets he has taken to suggest Ashraf may have what it takes to pack a greater punch than his bowling average and strike rate might, at this nascent stage of his career, suggest. Williamson aside, Ashraf has had the wood over several players currently in the opposition camp, having dismissed each of Aiden Markram, Quinton de Kock, and, as seen today, Faf du Plessis. In addition, Johnny Bairstow has fallen to him twice, which perhaps punctures the narrative of the 27-year old simply serving as a dibbly-dobbler turning his arm over only so ostensibly superior seam bowlers can enjoy a breather. And if opposition batsman view his introduction into the attack as an opportunity to score a quick run, as perhaps du Plessis did with a wild cut shot too close to his body, then Ashraf has the quality to punish them.
He may have been included in the XI because of Shadab's lingering injury, but it's hard to imagine him being dropped whenever and wherever Pakistan play next, no matter who else might be available. Test sides appear to exist in two states: they're either searching for a seam-bowling allrounder or wrapping the one they have in cotton wool. The control Ashraf offers with the ball is a luxury no captain would take for granted, while the runs he consistently continues to chip in with have changed the outlook of several Tests for Pakistan, including this one in Rawalpindi.
He might not have as many wickets as Pakistan might expect, but we are just eight Tests in for now. And, as we've seen with the most elite allrounders, eight Tests is much too early to be making judgment calls.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000