Twenty-one balls of deja vu

Usman Khan has been called a bowler with great potential for a number of years now. Ask people, though, what it is that started the hype about him in the first place, and you’ll find them scratching their heads. Even most Pakistanis wouldn’t know, but look deeper into the nooks and crannies and you’ll eventually find a die-hard follower of the domestic circuit.

Without any hesitation, they’d point you to a domestic T20 final where Usman, then virtually anonymous, burst through the opposition – the Misbah-ul-Haq-led Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited – to give his side a crushing win. It took 3.1 overs for him then to complete a five-wicket haul. Yes, that included Misbah’s wicket.

But spells of bowling like that one are thought to be the sort bizarre domestic games give you. Where everything goes perfectly, where the ball leaves your left hand and tails away from the right hander so much it’s an easier take for first slip than the wicketkeeper. That’s fast-bowling nirvana; good luck replicating that in an international match.

You can’t, and you aren’t expected to. Usman was brought into the side after Mohammad Amir pulled out due to injury, and was just another promising fast bowler from Pakistan, a country that appears to have discovered the genetic formula for producing that trait.

What Usman did today against Sri Lanka was procure himself an upgrade on what his career highlight would be. He produced a similar spell of bowling, only this time in an ODI, on a Sharjah pitch historically suited to batting. The manner of the dismissals was eerily similar to that T20 cup final but the profile of the batsmen dismissed was on another level. He could now count players like Upul Tharanga, Niroshan Dickwella and Dinesh Chandimal among his scalps, and it took only two more balls – 3.3 overs – to complete this particular five-fer. No wonder he was so chuffed about it.

“This is my second match so you can say that this is my best bowling,” he said. “If you see us before the match, we do complete warm-ups and our bowling coach tells us to attack from the first ball. So that’s what I did and got early wickets.”

Azhar Mahmood, Pakistan’s bowling coach, singled Usman out for praise, saying Sri Lanka had been “destroyed” by Pakistan’s bowling. “They are not a weak team,” he said. “They won the Test series. You can see they were destroyed by our bowling. We outplayed them with our bowling. Amir was not in this series but [Usman] Shinwari came and we have bowlers who can demolish the teams. Usman did it here with five wickets.

“I like his hunger for wickets. I watched him in the PSL when he came to play. I hadn’t seen him before but was really impressed. We have the best attack in the world. The back-up is good when Amir is not there, Rumman [Raees] came and performed in the Champions Trophy and now Amir again is missing and Shinwari performed so it’s healthy competition and makes our bench.”

As for Usman himself, he’s happy to push for a place in the starting eleven. “We have 15 players in the squad so everyone wants to be in the 11, and that’s also my aim.”

It’s an aim he’s significantly furthered with the course of this afternoon’s work.

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