Zahir Khan, who will open his stint at Lancashire in a T20 match on August 8, has 34 first class wickets at 13.14, alongside 19 at 22.42 in List A, and 15 at 13.53 in T20 cricket for Afghanistan cricket team (Pic: Twitter, Lancashire Lightning).
Not too long back, Afghanistan, the feel good story of international cricket, were being regarded as just that -- players to look at, sigh audible awws at, ruffle hair, and give pats on their backs for a job well tried. In the past six months though, their rise has been so methodically meteoric that it’s a surprise a lot of their fans watching them haven’t suffered serious neck injuries yet.
First, of course, was their star, Rashid Khan becoming the youngest bowler to rise to the top of the ICC player rankings in ODIs. That followed with the Afghans beating the West Indies twice, in the ICC World Cup qualifiers, to seal a place at next year’s cricket World Cup in England. Then came the announcement that Rashid was also the top-ranked bowler in the ICC’s ranking for T20s (a position he still holds). In June this year, they made their Test debut against India.
There, the learning truly stopped. India, the No. 1 Test team in the world, took apart the newcomers, and sparked numerous debates about the stupidity of pitting them up against such high-quality opposition so early in their Test careers. In stark comparison, Ireland took to the field for their debut against Pakistan, and stayed fairly competitive for the period of the match, eventually losing by five wickets.
One of the main reasons for this distance in competition was the fact that Afghan cricketers had no access to first class cricket unlike their rich opponents, or even newly inducted Ireland -- whose players play their careers in first class cricket at the County level. A call was made to the higher ups in the ICC’s management to balance the game out, and clean the system in a way, where feel good stories can be given a more level playing field, possibly leading to a happy ending. Those calls may have fallen on deaf ears.
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Where the collective may have failed though, individuals have taken it upon themselves to improve their own standards.
Lancashire announced on August 7 that Afghanistan’s 19-year-old left arm spinner Zahir Khan will join them for the rest of the season. In doing so, he becomes the fourth Afghanistan cricketer to join a English County this season, following Rashid Khan (Sussex), Mohammad Nabi (Leicestershire) and Mujeeb Ur Rahman (Hampshire).
“He is an exciting prospect and gives us another option with the ball. We’re looking forward to welcoming him to Emirates Old Trafford,” head coach Glen Chappell said to the club’s official website.
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Zahir has an impressive record in both limited overs and first class cricket. He has 34 first class wickets at 13.14, alongside 19 at 22.42 in List A, and 15 at 13.53 in T20 cricket. He is yet to make an international debut for Afghanistan in ODIs or Test cricket, despite featuring in the squad for the long form debut against India in Bengaluru.
Zahir was picked by Rajasthan Royals for the last season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), but dropped out after picking up an injury early in the season. The youngster was hailed as one of the finds of the tournament at the ICC Under 19 World Cup in 2016, where Afghanistan finished ninth, winning the Plate division of the competition.
Lancashire sit sixth in the top division of the English County Championship in the ongoing season . The club announced Zahir be part of its T20 squad (Lancashire Lightning) for the next match against the Durham Jets on August 8.