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Iftikhar Ahmed — Just the finisher Pakistan need?

Iftikhar Ahmed
Iftikhar Ahmed
©Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic

Iftikhar had been piling on the runs in first-class cricket for a long time but it were his back-to-back hundreds for Punjab in the 50-overs Pakistan Cup which catapulted him back in the national reckoning.

When you think of finishers in the Pakistan's limited-overs outfit in recent times, who do you think of? It is mostly Imad Wasim who has done the job for the team many a times and Shadab Khan on an odd occasion. Asif Ali has the potential but he is still to unleash it on a consistent basis at the highest level.

Who then is Pakistan's designated white-ball finisher, you tend to to wonder. In a country with bucket loads of talent, there has to be an individual or two who can use the long handle and bring some consistency to the finisher's role.

At such an opportune time, Iftikhar Ahmed has come to the scene. Though, saying that he has come to the scene just now would not be factually correct as Ahmed made his ODI debut in November 2015 against England in UAE. He could only manage 8 runs in his first two games.

In the only Test that he has played in his career, Iftikhar could only manage 4 runs and picked up one wicket and was dropped thereafter.

However, when Sri Lanka recently visited Pakistan, he remained unbeaten in both the ODIs in which he got a hit for 32 and 28 respectively. He was the the team's highest run-scorer in the first T20I when the team capitulated for just 101 and remained unbeaten in the following two games as well.

The first time he took guard against Australia, he proved his worth with an unbeaten 34-ball 62 and looked a class apart from his fellow batsmen. His knock, played at impressive strike rate of 182.35, included five fours. He also cleared the fence thrice, which is not something many Pakistan batsmen in the current line-up are capable of doing consistently.

Iftikhar Ahmed, who plays for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the domestic circuit and Karachi Kings in the Pakistan Super League, is a player in the mould of Mohammad Hafeez or Shoaib Malik. He is also a handy off-spinner and his first-class bowling average of 27.03 with 62 wickets from as many games and best figures of 6-39 are a testament to his bowling ability which only complements his List A batting average of 52.6.

Iftikhar had been piling on the runs in first-class cricket for a long time but it were his back-to-back hundreds for Punjab in the 50-overs Pakistan Cup which catapulted him back in the national reckoning.

"Iftikhar has a 51 [52.6] average in List A, he has been a top performer in the last three to four seasons. He is, I think, our fifth bowler, and you can utilise him, his fitness is excellent. He is a mature player, he is a three-dimensional player, fielding-wise good, he can do bowling, he can bat, he has 91 strike rate and 51 average and that's the reason we have brought him [into the squad]. Previously he was not coming into the team became of Hafeez and Shoaib, now he is in the team and he can bowl offspin too," Pakistan head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq said while announcing the squad.

In one of the PSL matches this season, Iftikhar impressed with an unbeaten 33 off 25 deliveries against Lahore Qalandars and also took 2 wickets while conceding just 4 runs from his two overs. As a result, he walked away with the Man of the Match award.

“If you look at my record, I am among the three top scorers in Pakistan. My job is to perform and it’s the selectors' job to select. I hope more rewards will come my way. I am playing first-class cricket for the last 10 years, so I have the experience and that helps,” Iftikhar had said after the match.

In the long run, he may either compete with or complement Asif Ali in the finisher's role. While the T20I series has been short lived, the middle-order batsman will get more opportunities to prove his mettle in the Test matches.

One understands that it is still early days to make such a big statement but with the power and bat swing that Iftikhar Ahmed displayed in the 2nd T20I in Canberra, he certainly promises to be the prime finishing prospect for Pakistan.