Pakistan were quick to make an impact when the Lord’s Test got underway as Mohammad Abbas made a mockery of Mark Stoneman’s defenses beating him from both sides of the bat. On the last ball of his second over – the fourth over of the match – Abbas granted Stoneman the mercy by curtailing his ignominious stay at the crease as he beat the left-handed batsman comprehensively through bat and pad and hit the top of his off-stump.
Pakistan’s domination in the match began from that point. Their remarkable bowling and disciplined batting pushed the hosts out of the contest in the first two days. But, it was the third day, when Abbas struck in the second over of the English innings to pin Alastair Cook — the only English batsman to have put the resistance in the first innings with his 148-ball 70 — LBW for only one run that made victory certain for Pakistan.
Reflecting on Cook’s wicket, Abbas, speaking to Cricbuzz in an exclusive telephonic interview from Leeds said: “I aim to get wickets of the opposition’s main batsmen, especially their captain’s.” The 28-year-old had unveiled before the start of the series that he targeted England captain Joe Root’s wicket. Abbas got the wicket he wanted in the second innings when he put an end to a third-wicket partnership between Root and Dawid Malan – which added 60 runs – by bringing an old Dukes ball back into the former and trapping him LBW.
“[Joe] Root faced me for only one ball in the first innings before getting out. Had he batted for a longer period, I would’ve tried to get his wicket in the first innings as well,” said Abbas. “In the second innings, I had taken two wickets [before picking up Root] and both of them were crucial wickets.”
Abbas missed out an opportunity to be on the prestigious Lord’s honours board twice as he returned 4 for 23 in the first, and 4 for 41 in the second innings. But the missed opportunity had no effect on him. “Had my team not won the match, it would have grieved me [to not make it to the honours board]. But, my performances helped my side in winning the match which is delightful.”
Abbas has been at the forefront of Pakistan’s successes since his Test debut against West Indies in West Indies in April last year. His impeccable length bowling has helped him in picking up 40 wickets in seven Tests, which is a record for Pakistan. And, since his debut, only Yasir Shah with 41 wickets has picked up more wickets for Pakistan in Test cricket.
With Amir struggling to regain his rhythm, Abbas stepped up and emerged as the leader of the Pakistani pace attack. “I am extremely happy [on being the leader] and I will try my best to continue to put up such performances,” he said. “I thank the Almighty that I performed well in the West Indies and was a top bowler from both sides. Then against Sri Lanka as well, I was the best among the fast-bowlers. During the matches against Ireland and England, I took 17 wickets. And, I have bagged 40 wickets in the first seven matches, which is unprecedented for a Pakistani bowler.”
His ability to pitch the ball up and move it both ways from the same spot has drawn comparisons with one of the best seam bowlers produced by Pakistan, Mohammad Asif. Does he feel that it is unfair with people taking Asif’s name rather than Abbas’s to talk about his performances? “It is not like that,” he chuckled. “Asif bhai has performed a lot for Pakistan and it is only because of that that I am compared with him. The performances are mine after all. He is my senior and we have played together for Sialkot. Whenever I play with a senior I try to learn from them.
“I discussed about line and length bowling from Asif and I have implemented those learnings in my career.”
Abbas started his first-class career with Sialkot in 2009 and picked up only four wickets in the three matches that he played that season. The road to the top echelons of the Pakistani set up was never that easy. He belongs to Jatheke, a small village 20 kilometers away from Sialkot.
He worked as a labourer in a factory and as a helper in a law firm before becoming a first-class cricketer. It was his impressive run in the 2015 and 2016 seasons in which he took 61 and 71 wickets at an average of 16 and 12 respectively that got him in the national reckoning.
He struck on his second-ever ball in Test cricket by taking wicket of Kraigg Brathwaite. From that point, he never looked back. “No,” he replied when he was asked whether he thought all this would happen while still in the early days of his career. “I had never thought that I would get this much respect. I was putting in hard yards and had told myself that I have to continue with the hard work and keep my focus on cricket and that day will come when I will play for Pakistan.”
Pakistan were forced to train indoors on Wednesday as the rain allowed only fielding drills outdoor. It has been 22 years since Pakistan won a Test series in England. And, after a long time, Pakistan can eye a series win going into the final match of a series in England. Abbas is aware of that. “It has been quite a long since Pakistan has won a series [in England],” he said. “We have practiced indoor because it was raining outside. But, we have had a good session. Hopefully, we will try to win the series.”
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