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Shafiqullah Ghafari lives the wristspinner's dream at the Under-19 World Cup

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Published in Cricket
Friday, 17 January 2020 09:58

The sign of a menacing spin bowler is how he takes his wickets.

In today's age of white-ball cricket, too often wristspinners are given the leeway of going for runs, just as long as they can get batsmen to eventually miscue an attacking shot. But on the opening day of the Under-19 World Cup, Shafiqullah Ghafari's spell of 6 for 15 reminded us all what quality legspin is all about, by putting a chokehold on his opposition and forcing them to tap out after a brief struggle.

He attacked the stumps and pegged them back four times. On the other two occasions, he trapped one batsman lbw while one edged a soft push to first slip. None of his wickets needed the help of any outfielder and each of his wickets were taken off batsmen who were simply looking to defend. What does that tell us?

It tells us how wary teams are of Afghanistan and their spin contingent. And as they continue to produce wristspinners who take the world by storm, the latest to raise his hand is Ghafari, who fell in love with the art of legspin watching videos on the internet.

"When I started playing cricket, all the time I was watching Shane Warne videos online," Ghafari said after the match." So I was inspired from him how to bowl legspin.

"Six wickets in a World Cup first match, it's a dream. It has given me confidence for future matches as well. I knew if I bowled in the right areas, then everything would work out."

He wasn't supposed to be the star of the team. For that, there was Noor Ahmed, the left-arm orthodox spinner who recently made heads turn by becoming the youngest person - at 15 - to participate in an IPL auction. But sometimes it helps to lurk in the shadows. There isn't much footage of Ghafari floating on the internet, so when he was introduced to bowl in the 14th over, South Africa didn't know what to expect.

In his second over, Ghafari got his googly to turn from a length, and bowled Levert Manje for a duck. Next over, he came around the wicket to trap left-handed Jack Lees lbw for 0 too, and when he was given a shot at dismantling the South African tail, you didn't need to be a soothsayer to know what was to come.

A ripping wrong'un from outside off stump went through Khaya Cotani's defences to hit the timber. Tiaan van Vuuren then looked to defend what he thought was a googly to the on-side, but instead the legbreak turned past him, took the outside edge and found the fielder at slip, and he got reached his five-for in a classical wristspinner's style, getting the googly to turn so sharply that Achille Cloete was trying to defend outside off stump, but the ball went through him to clip middle.

The cherry on the top was Ghafari's sixth - the wicket of big-hitting Gerald Coetzee, which turned in so sharply to go through him that the batsman was left on his knees wondering what just happened. Between all this, he conceded just the one boundary in 55 deliveries, of which 40 were dot balls, and helped his side bowl South Africa out for only 129. He effectively won the game for Afghanistan even before their batsmen had to pad up.

"When I bowl in tandem with Noor, our focus - all the time - is to bowl dot balls," Ghafari said. "We want the batsman to make mistakes. We never think about who is taking the wicket. Both of us want to bowl dot balls, keep the economy under three, and the wickets just follow."

So in the land where fast bowlers dream to bowl, a spinner ruled Kimberley. Ghafari reminded us that classical legbreak still has a place in the sport. And he also showed while India produce batsmen by the dozen and Pakistan is the breeding ground of pacers, it's Afghanistan who are well and truly the world's best exporters of spin bowlers.

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