Zulqarnain Haider: a hero who conveys to his mates how cricket is played
The slim figure of Zulqarnain Haider blocking, pushing, safely leaving and driving confidently annoyed and got to the nerves of Andrew Strauss and company for much of the third day’s play at Edgbaston. The 24-year old did everything to get under the skin of the English: the sedate looking Stuart Broad got so frustrated with the newcomer that he threw the ball straight at the batsman after it was played; the umpires had to chat with Strauss about the conduct of his bowler. In many ways, it summed up the day for England.
At stumps, Pakistan are 291 for 9, leading the hosts by 112 runs with Mohammed Asif and an injured but confident Umar Gul at the crease. The game is far from over, thanks to the lower order, especially Zulqarnain Haider.
Haider did much more than score 88 runs. He felt like having fun, and spread the vibe. Alongside Mohammad Aamer and then Saeed Ajmal, he played very sensibly, and enjoyed every run that he took. The more time he spent, the more confident he became. His frontfoot and backfoot drives were a treat to watch, and Haider even instinctively conjured stylish follow-throughs after his shots, regardless of whether they produced any run. The constant shadow-practise in between deliveries, frequent chat with his partners and the busy look in his eyes coupled with the runs he scored did wonders to the mood of the whole dressing room. Mohammad Yousuf seemed relaxed, Salman Butt eagerly looked on with a smile, his partners started to trust their own batting abilities.
He was given out leg-before first ball, but thanks to the referral the decision was overturned. Haider would be a fan of the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS). His presence was what the doctor ordered for Pakistan.
Indeed, it was Zulqarnain Haider whose presence allowed Saeed Ajmal to record his highest score in Tests. Ajmal, whose previous best was 10, took blows on both of his arms, the chest and some on the helmet, but stuck in there with Haider and kept the scoreboard ticking. Ajmal was clearly struggling against the short ball, and England bowlers peppered him with bouncers, but the batsman survived the attack. He even managed to finally successfully pull a delivery to the boundary to frustrate England. Against spinners, he employed the sweep and the leg glance to good effect, scoring most of his runs through those shots. Strauss kept many close-in fielders but surprisingly kept the long-on and the deep mid-wicket for Ajmal. When the fielders in those positions were brought in, he rubbed salt to the wounds by lofting Anderson for a boundary through deep-mid wicket.
He reached his half-century by pushing Anderson for a single. He roared to the pavilion, and raised his bat. He fell in the second ball of the next over, off Graeme Swann, nicking him to slip.
Haider departed soon after, confidently lofting Swann to Strauss at cover, 12 short of a brilliant century. Nevertheless, he did infinitely more than lift the spirits of his team through his knock and more than saved Pakistan from embarrassment when at a time they were struggling at 101 for 6.
Earlier, Imran Farhat, Shoaib Malik, Azhar Ali and Umar Akmal played short innings as if on a deal, and made an innings defeat look likely. Zulqarnain Haider changed all that.
Thanks to Haider, the whole mood of the team has changed. Their bowlers would be making plans now. Some heavy turn and bounce towards the end of the day would keep Pakistan interested. They already have a lead of 112 runs, and they would hope that their last pair add some more to give their bowlers something to bowl at.
If they could skittle Australia for 88, they could do it one more time against England.