Matches (21)
IPL (3)
Pakistan vs New Zealand (2)
PAK v WI [W] (1)
ACC Premier Cup (1)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
WT20 WC QLF (Warm-up) (5)

Shahnawaz Dahani - the pace bowler with the smile

He's burst into the spotlight as the Multan Sultans' trump card in PSL 2021, and looks set for more

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Shahnawaz Dahani celebrates a wicket  •  PCB

Shahnawaz Dahani celebrates a wicket  •  PCB

Perhaps we all went in search of a feelgood story, or maybe Shahnawaz Dahani entered our timelines fully formed. If Kyle Jamieson was sculpted in a sinister Cantabrian research facility to terrorise, Dahani was created in a Larkana lab to delight. In hyper-polarised times as these, few people in sport - indeed, all walks of life - have generated such an immediate, and sustained, outpouring of warmth and goodwill as the man who suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of Multan Sultan's trump card.
The hype train roared to life in the doomed first part of the PSL in February and March, when there was legitimately little to be happy about. Covid-19 cases had begun to steadily increase after a few weeks in remission, and no fans were allowed at the National Stadium in Karachi. The bubble, to the extent that one existed, would soon end up fatally compromised, and the whole tournament was put off before it reached the halfway mark.
In those early days, the excitement around the six foot two fast bowler seemed a passing fad, and perhaps even a little contrived. He was picking up wickets regularly - nine in his first four matches - but he was also frightfully expensive; no one who bowled as many overs as him leaked runs at more than his 10.33. The sample size was too small, anyway, and the decision to include him for Pakistan's tour of Zimbabwe - the Test leg, no less - on the basis of the excitement he generated in the resplendent kit of Sultans seemed more than a little reactionary. (Chief selector Muhammad Wasim insisted the inclusion was grounded in first-class matches he had played earlier that season; do watch out for your blood pressure before you take that claim with more than a pinch of salt.).
The first game in Abu Dhabi, where Dahani was tonked for 46 in four, seemed a regression to the mean. But ever since, the 22-year old has enjoyed a purple patch he would do well to ever replicate in a career that, on current evidence, has a long way to run. His strike rate, already impressive at 11.6 balls per wicket in Karachi, has improved to 10 in Abu Dhabi, the fourth best among all players who have taken 20 wickets in a single season across all leagues. It happened because he followed up that first game with 11 wickets in his next four, including a T20 spell for the ages to knock out Lahore Qalandars, taking four wickets for five runs in three overs and becoming the leading wickettaker at this year's PSL.
It wasn't just that Qalandars were clueless how to deal with him; Qalandars over the years have shown themselves to be clueless about lots of things. Dahani has shown over this past fortnight that he recognises what intelligent, quality T20 bowling is, and on his day, executes it to a tee. The joy doesn't only lie in the candid, startled look of surprise when he takes a wicket, or that celebration which only bears a passing similarity to the Hotline Bling dance. It also emanates from appreciating the pace those very skinny arms can generate, or the variations of line, length and speed Dahani recognises to bowl in a format he had never played four months ago.
The most exciting fast bowlers tend to find their reputations forged on the basis of their exploits in the Powerplay or at the death, but Dahani has tended to rip the opposition up in the middle overs. In that phase of the game (Overs 7-16), the Sultans ace takes a wicket every eight deliveries, especially astonishing when you consider that phase to be a time batsmen consolidate and would theoretically take fewer risks. It's a passage of play spinners have historically tended to dominate in the PSL, but this year, only Rashid Khan took more wickets than Dahani's ten during the middle overs.
It remains the best time to use him, as an average of 10.40 and a 7.80 economy will bear out. Dahani has also taken six wickets at the death, but by this stage, wickets don't quite carry the currency they do earlier, and the economy rate (11.44) remains a work in progress. Expect Sultans to utilise any overs he doesn't bowl during the middle phase in the Powerplay, where while he's least likely to pick up a wicket, an economy of 6.78 is especially handy.
But while Sultans remain on top of their numbers, they will be canny enough to appreciate it's not only those which have helped propel an unknown prospect to national stardom in the space of a few weeks. Dahani's appeal extends far beyond the runs he concedes when a pre-determined number of men can field inside a 30-yard circle, or the times when only he appears to understand if he should roll his fingers over the seam of a cricket ball. His story is a tale every boy or girl who grew up loving cricket can relate to. Of rising through the ranks unknown and taking the world stage by storm. Of proving doubters, either at home, a local cricket club or school coaching staff, wrong. Of looking, above all, like you're loving every single minute of it.
When Dahani smiles, he tends to put smiles on people's faces. And while it's the PSL trophy Sultans really crave, it's that trait which carries the greatest currency of all in times like these.

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