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Interviews

Mohammad Nawaz aced his last game against India. He's waiting for part two now

The Pakistan left-arm spinner and surprise-weapon batter looks back to his dream Asia Cup outing

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
22-Oct-2022
Mohammad Nawaz, promoted up the order, played a blinder of an innings, India vs Pakistan, Asia Cup, Dubai, September 4, 2022

Mohammad Nawaz during his match-turning innings against India in the Asia Cup: "You learn a lot from big games because the pressure grows"  •  AFP/Getty Images

"For two days, I had to switch my notifications off," Mohammad Nawaz says, laughing, as he recounts the aftermath of a match that will forever be his own. Even if he never scores another run or takes another wicket in his Pakistan career, he will always have that night in Dubai in the Asia Cup.
"It was a highlight of my career so far," he says, speaking at Lahore's Pearl Continental Hotel before travelling to Australia for the T20 World Cup via a tri-series in New Zealand. "The hype of the game is there all over the world, and when you perform against India, a lot of texts and notifications are going to come to your phone. I had to switch them off and just relax and sleep."
It was the sort of night every allrounder dreams of having. Nawaz's first over, the fifth, cost eight runs and Suryakumar Yadav hit the first of his second for four over extra cover, but from that point, Nawaz conceded 17 runs in 18 balls and dismissed Suryakumar, arguably the world's top in-form T20 batter, when he top-edged a sweep to deep backward square leg.
"He [Suryakumar] is the kind of player who plays everywhere," Nawaz says. "If you're a little bit off, he can punish you. When I was bowling to him - and at the other end was [Virat] Kohli as well - every ball, I was just thinking, 'I have to be accurate. Let him play however he wants, but don't give him any loose balls.'"
Relentlessly hitting a good line and length, Nawaz finished with 1 for 25 from his overs as India set Pakistan a target of 182 to win. Having only batted 14 times in his previous 32 T20Is, he was not expecting to play a major role in the chase - at least, not until taps on the shoulder arrived from Saqlain Mushtaq and Babar Azam. "I was sitting there and then my coach and captain said I must pad up," he says.
"There was a right-left combination. When I went in, I was just very clear in my mind that we needed ten runs per over. I had worked in the nets. I was just thinking that I have to execute that and bring that hard work into the game. When left-handed batsmen are at the crease, it's a little difficult for the opposition."
He walked out at 63 for 2 in the ninth over, with 119 required off 68 balls, and had licence to go hard: he steered his second ball away for four off Yuzvendra Chahal, then swung his third for six over midwicket off Hardik Pandya. By the time he was out, slapping Bhuvneshwar Kumar to long-off, he had made 42 off 20 and set the game up for Pakistan to sneak home with a ball to spare.
"It depends how you utilise the opportunity," Nawaz says. "They were saving me for that, because I had to counter the legspin and use the boundary dimensions as well. One side was a little bit shorter. I had a clear mind. I knew that I had to play a cameo so my team could come out of a difficult situation.
"Pakistan vs India, people follow this game all over the world and there is so much hype. As a player, to perform in this kind of game, your confidence grows. You learn a lot from big games because the pressure grows."
Nawaz has become an integral member of Pakistan's T20 set-up since the last World Cup as a like-for-like replacement for Imad Wasim, another left-arm fingerspinner who could contribute with the bat and bowl in the powerplay. "He is a senior player and whenever we're together, we try to pass on things: his arm ball is something that I ask him about," Nawaz says.
"I'm used to bowling in the powerplay. I used to in domestic games and in the PSL as well, for Quetta Gladiators. When I bowl with the new ball, if I am bowling the second over, I sometimes try to swing the ball but it depends on the conditions. Most of the time I just stay with trying to turn it."
He has formed a strong partnership with Shadab Khan, bowling in tandem in the middle overs. "For the past year, we've been working together really well. We grew up playing together and have really good chemistry. It's been working for the team because we've been getting wickets in the middle overs and putting opponents on the back foot."
Nawaz has also been used increasingly often as a floater, batting in the middle overs to take down opposition spinners, as he did in Dubai. He batted at No. 4 with success in consecutive games at the end of the tri-series with Bangladesh and New Zealand, making unbeaten scores of 45 off 20 and 38 off 22 as Pakistan won their last group game and the final.
He will have the chance to play India again on Sunday in front of a sold-out crowd at the MCG, if the weather plays nice. "As a team, we are very excited," Nawaz says. "It's going to be a big day again. We try to take it like a normal game and just work on whatever we need to. Everything else is not in your hands.
"Our first sport is cricket and people die for cricket here. They support us a lot and expectations are high - very high. It is challenging, but as a player I enjoy it. When the whole nation is supporting you and behind you, if you perform well, it's a good way to spread happiness on their faces. We always try to do that.
"My message for the fans is: keep supporting us. Their support is very important for us, always. We've got a good bowling unit and some top-quality batsmen, so team morale is very high. Hopefully, we can put in some good performances and, inshallah, win the World Cup."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98