Pakistan County Championship round-up: Abbas and Masood make their marks

Five of the Pakistan contingent plying their trade in county cricket this summer were involved in the opening round

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
Mohammad Abbas goes up in appeal, Hampshire vs Somerset, LV= Insurance Championship, Division One, Ageas Bowl, April 7, 2022

Mohammad Abbas goes up in appeal  •  Getty Images

The 2022 County Championship began last week, with Pakistan players providing a strong overseas presence. Here we take a look at how they got on.

Division One

Mohammad Abbas
Where is Mohammad Abbas, people asked as Pakistan's fast bowlers toiled away on some of Test cricket's flattest tracks in recent history against Australia. Prepping himself for another county stint clearly which, increasingly, is coming to feel like his true home. Though he remains in Pakistan's plans, they seem to have decided (with some justification) that he is best deployed on more helpful surfaces where his lack of pace is cancelled out by what he does with the ball after it lands. On recent evidence, that remains a potent enough skill. Only three bowlers took more Championship wickets at a better average than Abbas's 41 at 15.87 last season and he's begun this season with much the same intent. Match figures of 6 for 50 were central in Hampshire's commanding innings win over Somerset. The four in the second innings were very Abbas: two bowled, two caught in the cordon. Even though Somerset were depleted and it is one game, the nature of the win - and Hampshire's strong pace attack of Kyle Abbott, Keith Barker and Abbas - has got people all giddy about how they go this season.
Naseem Shah
A young, tearaway Pakistan quick signing up for a full season at an English county to hone his skills and learn the craft? Naseem Shah at Gloucestershire has a very 1990s feel about it. He's arriving at a good moment in his career, off the back of being, arguably, Pakistan's best bowler in the Tests against Australia. But a shoulder injury in his first county outing restricted him to just 11 overs in the game (and none in the second innings), a reminder that for all the excitement, young fast bowlers remain fragile things. His best contribution was, in fact, with the bat, an 80-run partnership with James Bracey in the first innings keeping Gloucestershire in the game.
Zafar Gohar
Zafar Gohar has moved on from being a trivia question on weirdest ways to miss a game (accounts vary but TL;DR, he missed a flight) but not always in a straight line. He was player of the tournament in the Quaid-e-Azam (QeA) trophy in the 2019-20 season but then missed the next season because he was touring New Zealand with Pakistan Shaheens and then was called up for Pakistan. He had a stinker of a QeA last season but turned up at Gloucestershire at the end of last summer and has been reminding Pakistan of his skills since. He took 20 wickets in four games last season (including an 11-wicket haul) and started off well again this year, playing a big role in Gloucestershire's thrilling draw with Northamptonshire. A third-innings fifty helped his side turn a 65-run deficit into a 299-run target and as he wheeled away on the final day, picking up three wickets, he was close to taking them to a memorable win. A strong season could push him back into Pakistan contention, given their spin issues.

Division Two

Shan Masood
It would be entirely in keeping with how Shan Masood operates that he returns to the country where he so famously struggled in 2016 and does well enough to break back into the Pakistan Test XI. Few Pakistani cricketers have worked to improve themselves with the zeal Masood has. If you take out his admittedly epic but also fortune-filled 156 at Old Trafford in 2020, he has made 94 runs in eight Test innings in England. Opening's no easy job here, but that is a record that needs righting and under the caring eye of Mickey Arthur, he's in a good position to do so. Innings of 91 and 62 in his first county game at his old "home" ground of Lord's, is a great start. He's been in good form across formats and was this close to breaking back into the Test side before coming to Derby. More performances like this and it might not be long before he does.
Azhar Ali
Azhar Ali was a popular figure at Somerset but not, perhaps, an especially successful one. A century on debut promised better things than an average of 28.76 across three seasons ultimately delivered. So Worcestershire (against whom he made that only hundred) will hope that Azhar's first game - run-out for a duck, leg-before for 2 - is the opposite of how things turn out. He was at least involved in a thriller, as Leicestershire's last-wicket pair batted for nearly 100 minutes to draw the game. And on the last day, he took a wicket third ball after coming on to leave Leicestershire on the brink. His legspin has always been grossly under-utilised.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo