Nawaz was sent out to bat at number 8 in the league stage match vs India in the ongoing Asia Cup, which India won. On that occasion he managed to score just 1 off 3 balls. On Sunday though, after Pakistan lost two if their best batters in captain Babar Azam (14) and Fakhar Zaman (15) and with the scoreboard reading 63 for 2 in 8.4 overs, Pakistan head coach Saqlain Mushtaq and skipper Babar decided to promote the hard-hitting Nawaz up the order. It was a gamble. And it paid off handsomely for Pakistan.
The reasoning behind this was to counter the two Indian leggies and Nawaz, who before this match had scored a total of 124 runs in 14 innings, played a knock that turned the match on its head, completely swinging the momentum Pakistan’s way.
When Nawaz walked out to bat the equation for Pakistan read – 119 needed in 68 deliveries. This was the stage where Rohit Sharma would have liked to really apply the brakes on Pakistan to make sure that the required run rate inched into the realm of the almost impossible. But that’s exactly what Nawaz didn’t allow the Indian bowlers to do.
He came to the crease and defended the first ball and then played a superb cut towards third man to send Chahal for a boundary. In the next over, Rizwan collected a single off Hardik Pandya and gave the strike to Nawaz. Nawaz didn’t waste time and whacked Pandya over long on for a huge six.
The 28-year-old Nawaz, a left-arm spinner, put on a 73-run stand with Mohammad Rizwan for the third wicket. It was a partnership that made sure that Pakistan stayed well and truly in the hunt in what was a tricky chase. Nawaz’s stay at the crease was just 20 balls long, but in true T20 fashion, it was an impact knock. Nawaz smashed 6 fours and 2 sixes in his 20-balls, notching up 42 runs. His knock also gave Rizwan the breathing space, ensuring that he didn’t have to try anything too rash.
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Nawaz scored 22 runs against the Indian leg-spinners – Chahal and Bishnoi, including 1 six off Bishnoi and 3 boundaries against Chahal in his 42-run knock.
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“I had a hunch that Nawaz would be key against the leg-spinners,” said Babar Azam in the post-match presentation.
By the time Nawaz fell in the 16th over to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the equation had come down to 46 needed off 27 balls. The momentum had swung.
Nawaz in fact had an all-round impact on the match – He had very economical figures of 1-25 in his 4 overs. His one victim on the night was potential game changer Suryakumar Yadav. Nawaz also took three catches, and was of course adjudged Man of the Match. In the Asia Cup league match vs India in Dubai, which Pakistan lost, Nawaz was the most successful Pakistan bowler, taking 3 wickets for 33 runs in 3.4 overs, sending back the likes of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Raviindra Jadeja.
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“To play such an innings in a high-pressure game has definitely given me confidence. I have got the opportunity to grow as a player and I will try my best to live up to the rising expectations. I will work hard and try to perform better as a proper all-rounder for the Pakistan team,” Nawaz said after the match.
The 28 year old, who made his international debut for Pakistan across all three formats in 2016, was born in Rawalpindi and started playing cricket at the age of 14. Interestingly, he was initially a left-arm medium fast bowler and a middle-order batsman.
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Playing for Rawalpindi against Sialkot in an inter-region Under-16 tournament match in 2008, a young Nawaz played a vital role in his team’s win, smashing 60 runs and bagging four wickets, as a medium pacer.
Subsequently he was included in the Pakistan side for the International Under-15 Championship in the West Indies.
Since the Caribbean tracks were slow, his coach Ameer Akbar and team manager Haroon Rashid helped him transform from a medium pacer to a left-arm spinner.
Nawaz, who played for Pakistan A, Quetta Gladiators, and Rajshahi Royals, made his Pakistan debut in 2016 and has played 5 Tests, 22 ODIs, and 33 T20Is so far. He has 417 international runs and 78 scalps under his belt.