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How underrated are Zadran-Gurbaz as an opening pair?

Last updated on 23 Oct 2023 | 06:44 PM
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How underrated are Zadran-Gurbaz as an opening pair?

You think about Afghanistan’s batting, Gurbaz and Zadran are the first two names you think of

Think of good openers. Now, try to create a list in your mind. 

Rohit Sharma is the most obvious one. Then there is Shubman Gill

But if you remove these two obvious names, what are the opening batting pairs that are on your mind? Errr, maybe Pathum Nissanka-Dimuth Karunaratne, Quinton de Kock-Temba Bavuma, or even Travis Head-David Warner? 

Chances are that you wouldn’t even have considered Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran as one of the best opening pairs in world cricket at the moment. 

That’s only down to ignorance. 

Since the start of the year, Gurbaz and Zadran have opened the innings 15 times. 

They have batted 170 overs together, and in those overs, they have left an indelible mark on Afghanistan’s batting fortunes. 

Afghanistan have always been blessed with a power hitter at the top of the order. At one point, there was Mohammad Shahzad, then there was Noor Ali Zadran, Javed Ahmadi and even Nawroz Mangal, all opening for Afghanistan.

But as a batting pair, it is impossible for anyone to recreate half the impact that Gurbaz and Zadran have done in Afghanistan’s little cricketing history. Their journeys have been quite different, yet their presence at the crease nowadays causes teams some terror. 

In 2023, as a duo, Zadran-Gurbaz have scored 953 runs, averaging 63.53, with a run-rate of 5.61. If one played spin really well, the other was a proper batter against pace.

But the biggest test for the pair was on October 23 (Monday), when they walked out with the country’s hope on their shoulder. Pakistan set Afghanistan a target of 283, and if Afghanistan were going to chase that down and, in turn, create history, they needed the batting pair to click. To add furthermore fire to it, Afghanistan had never beaten Pakistan in ODIs across their previous seven encounters.

In 2023, Afghanistan had just won four ODIs. 

Across those four wins, there was an evident pattern - the opening-wicket partnership. Zadran-Gurbaz averaged 112.5 in Afghanistan’s wins, scoring 449 runs in 73.5 overs, scoring the crucial runs at a run-rate of 6.08, with two hundred-run partnerships and a fifty-run partnership.

Earlier this year, in Chattogram, what Zadran-Gurbaz did was nothing short of destruction - something that set the world alight. 

The pair tonked the Bangladesh bowling unit all over the park for a 256-run partnership, which eventually helped to set up a staggering 142-run win over Bangladesh. They weren’t just mortal crucial to their chances; it was immortal level crucial for Afghanistan’s chances of a win. 

But these factors - them scoring just 139 runs and failing to chase down 289 against New Zealand - would have definitely played in the back of their mind. Add the fear factor of facing the left-arm pace of Shaheen Afridi, and there was a lot tilted against these two.

Never in history had Afghanistan chased down a total of beyond 280, and if they had to achieve history, they had to have these two openers firing all cylinders. 

“He can score everywhere on the ground. The longer Gurbaz bats for us, the more chance we have of winning,” Afghanistan’s head coach Jonathan Trott had to say on Gurbaz’s talent. 

Off the first ball, the intent was clear when Gurbaz tucked one to the fine-leg region for a four. Zadran, who watched Gurbaz tuck one away, didn’t get stuck there either, with a four towards the cover region. 

That was all it required for the neutral fans to sway sides at the Chepauk; it was almost like Afghanistan were playing at home. The crowd were cheering for every boundary. 

Till the seventh over of the innings, the match didn’t pick up pace as much as the two Afghan openers would have hoped for, but once Haris Rauf’s pace was introduced, Gurbaz took off instantaneously, with four, four, four and four across five balls, leaving Pakistan totally stunned. 

When, in the ninth over, Zadran went past the 30-run mark, it was trouble for Pakistan. Never had the right-hander been dismissed for a total of less than 54 in his last 10 ODI innings once he had crossed the 30-run mark. He ensured that he would convert the start into a big contribution every time. 

Zadran is just 21, and his impact on Afghanistan cricket was already multi-fold, with him scoring his 1000 ODI runs in just 24 innings. The signs of his run-scoring capability were always on the cards when he piled on three tons in his first eight ODIs, a feat that included a national record of 162 that he scored against Sri Lanka in Pallekele last year. 

En route, the pair also brought up their fourth hundred-run partnership in the year, the joint-most for any opening pair in world cricket, alongside Rohit and Gill. 

It was also the joint-most hundred-run stand in Afghanistan history for any wicket. In many ways, the pair showed the world what a powerful opening partnership could do to the fate of a run-chase. While Zadran took the backseat, Gurbaz never had his foot off the peddle, taking off only vertically, with one spectacular shot after another - winning the hearts of the Chennai crowd.

At 130/0, chasing 283 in the 22nd over, the match felt like it was well in Afghanistan’s grasp. Even though Afghanistan scrambled their way to a win, it was well set up by the opening pair, who continued to grow more and more in semblance. 

"Thankful that I performed well in this event. I wanted to play with a positive intent. Many times Gurbaz and I have done a brilliant partnership together. We have played a lot of cricket together, right from the Under-16 days. I am feeling very glad for myself and for my country,” Zadran talked about his partnership with Gurbaz in the post-match presentation. 

Zadran-Gurbaz’s opening partnership goes a long way in the history of Afghanistan cricket; they played at the U-16 days together before playing the U-19 World Cup, and since then, the partnership has only continued on and on, including performing at the world’s biggest stage - the ODI World Cup. Only a few days earlier, England paid the price of taking this partnership lightly as they scored 114 of Afghanistan's 284 runs on the night. 

When Hashmatullah Shahidi’s thunderous shot went for a four, all hell broke loose, with the crowd giving them a standing ovation. The night was even more glorious when Gurbaz uttered, “Thank you so much; we have beaten them,” it was when their night really started. 

It felt like the spaceship was finally on the moon, or the opening partnership was finally on the world map. Of the 3355 runs Afghanistan scored in 2023, 953 runs have come off Zadran-Gurbaz’s partnership, accounting for 28.4%. 

The numbers jump at a sharp 46.2%, with 579 runs coming from the pair out of the 1253 runs that Afghanistan have scored in victories this year. 

They average 115.80 as a batting pair in Afghanistan’s wins this year. 

In all, it only proves a point that Zadran-Gurbaz as a batting pair have escalated themselves to greater heights as the cricketing world continues to underrate them severely.

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