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Feature

Pakistanis in the County Championship: Abbas runs through Gloucestershire, Azhar scraps his way into form

Hasan Ali endured a difficult game against Warwickshire, while Mohammad Rizwan missed out on a flat pitch in Hove

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
09-May-2022
Hasan Ali brings out a trademark celebration, Hampshire vs Lancashire, LV= Insurance Championship, Division One, Ageas Bowl, April 28, 2022

Hasan Ali picked up three wickets in the first innings against Warwickshire, but was wicketless and expensive in the second  •  Getty Images

The fifth round of the 2022 County Championship concluded on Sunday, with six Pakistani representatives split evenly across both divisions. There were contrasting showings from the contingent, ranging from outstanding to ordinary. Here's a look at how they went along.

Division One

Mohammad Abbas
Mohammad Abbas looks like he was born to play the County Championship, and this season with Hampshire has done plenty to bolster that perception. His form - and indeed that of Hampshire's - shows no sign of fading just yet, with the 32-year-old picking up six first-innings wickets - and nine overall - to lead his side to an 87-run win over Gloucestershire at the Rose Bowl. After Hampshire posted 342, Abbas put on a new-ball masterclass to gut the opposition's top and middle order, taking four wickets in his first seven overs to leave them reeling at 31 for four. He returned to polish off the tail, including his fellow Pakistani Mohammad Amir, and the second innings saw him strike with both first and second new balls as his side coasted to another victory.
Mohammad Amir
On the other side of that contest was Amir, whose surprise return to red-ball cricket has given Gloucestershire a fillip midway through this season. Amir was stellar without managing the explosiveness of his fellow Pakistani in Hampshire, taking three wickets in each innings, always just about keeping Hampshire in check. Most memorable, perhaps was his spell late on day two that punished Hampshire for sending in two nightwatchmen and reducing them to 15 for 4, giving Gloucestershire a sniff of a chaseable fourth-innings target.
Hasan Ali
Manchester might have played host to a bore draw between Lancashire and Warwickshire, but there were enough flickers of quality from Hasan Ali to suggest his County Championship sojourn continues to do him good. While struggling to make an impact with the new ball, three rapid-fire strikes lower down the order helped wrap Warwickshire's first innings up for 315, with Hasan notching up figures of 3-82 in 28 overs. Lancashire ended up taking a slender lead, but with time running out, Warwickshire's second innings was essentially academic, allowing the Lancashire bowlers a crack at some bonus match practice. It was time enough for Hasan to trap the in-form Sam Hain cheaply in front, even if, with figures of 1-55 in 18 overs, he found himself, by some distance, the most expensive bowler from his side.

Division Two

Mohammad Rizwan
It was a game of high scores and high scoring rates in Division Two between Sussex and Middlesex, but Mohammad Rizwan failed to benefit from either as he wades through a tricky spell in the Championship this season. He scored 31 off 58 balls in the only innings he batted in before being undone by Blake Cullen, and while that might not seem disastrous, this was a game that saw seven half-centuries and two centuries scored. It also saw Middlesex gun down 370 at over five runs an over for the loss of just three wickets in the fourth innings, driving home how few demons the pitch possessed. After getting back on track with 79 in his previous innings, the Pakistan vice-captain might have hoped to make more of an impact on a pitch as pliant as this.
Shaheen Shah Afridi
Playing the same match but for Middlesex instead was Pakistan's favourite son Shaheen Shah Afridi. The scorecard would suggest this was no bowler's favourite pitch, but even so, Afridi managed to salvage something from the game. Three wickets for 97 runs in the first innings, including that of Sussex captain and opener Tom Haines, helped bowl them out for 392. There was also a second-ball dismissal of the other Sussex opener, Ali Orr, in the second innings, with Shaheen's figures of 1 for 43 in 12 overs the most economical by a frontline Middlesex bowler, keeping Sussex in check to give his batters a chance of going for a sensational final-day win.
Azhar Ali
Azhar Ali's horror stint for Worcestershire continued in the first innings against Durham, when Matthew Potts - who took 6 for 62 - removed him for a second-ball duck. It meant the former Pakistan captain had managed just 34 runs in his first six innings of the season after a fairly encouraging series against Australia at a personal level. But it was in the second innings, at a time when Azhar's specific character traits of grit and stubbornness were most in demand, that he finally rose to the occasion.
With Durham having set Worcestershire an impractical 442 for victory and - more relevantly - given themselves 100 overs in which to bowl them out, Azhar came out after the openers had fallen cheaply inside seven overs. Across a vigil of 224 balls, he accumulated 92 runs in a 74-over partnership with Jack Haynes that all but extinguished Durham's chances of victory. Potts, so lethal in the first innings, was kept wicketless, and 15 overs of Ben Stokes brought no breakthroughs either. Chris Rushworth removed him eight runs shy of a century, but the gratification an innings of this nature will give Azhar was never going to reflect in the statistics.

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