PUNE: When cricket lovers refer to a ‘fearsome foursome’ they are usually talking about one of the West Indies’ celebrated fast-bowling attacks of the late 1970s and 1980s.
But the way Afghanistan deployed four spinners in their recent World Cup win over Pakistan could lead to a new meaning for the term.
Even though the Chennai pitch is known to provide plenty of turn, some pundits were still taken aback when Afghanistan brought teenage left-armer Noor Ahmad into their XI to give themselves a fourth spin option against Pakistan.
Yet the 18-year-old wrist-spinner, appearing in just his fourth one-day international, responded with a return of 3-49 in 10 overs.
Not only that, his haul on World Cup debut included three frontline batsmen in Abdullah Shafique, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan.
Afghanistan’s spinners bowled 38 overs between them, with the experienced Mohammad Nabi (1-31) and Rashid Khan (0-41) proving particularly tough for Pakistan’s batsmen to get away even if off-spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman, opening the bowling, conceded 55 runs from his eight overs.
As it was, Pakistan were held to 282-7 in a match Afghanistan won by eight wickets following their 69-run rout of reigning champions England.
Noor’s left-arm angle complements that of right-arm leg-spinner Rashid, with the 25-year-old the first global superstar of Afghanistan cricket following his exploits in various Twenty20 competitions.
Nabi’s flighted off-spin has been a key component of Afghanistan’s rise through the ranks of world cricket, with the 38-year-old now a veteran of 152 ODIs.
With the roots of so much Afghanistan cricket in neighbouring Pakistan, where players learned the games in refugee camps following the Soviet invasion or, in Nabi’s case, in Peshawar after his parents moved across the border to avoid the conflict, it is perhaps unsurprising that spin bowling has long been a key compoent of their team.
They have slow-bowling depth as well, with the likes of 23-year-old leg-spinner Qais Ahmad – not in the World Cup squad - having had stints with English county side Kent.
For much of cricket history, the concept of a ‘balanced attack’ has held sway.
But that idea was rejected by celebrated West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, who reasoned that if your four best bowlers were quicks, then why not field them all?
India, by contrast, had a celebrated 1960s and 1970s quartet of spinners in Erapalli Prasanna, Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and the late Bishan Bedi but they rarely all appeared in the same XI.
But having broken with convention against Pakistan, in a match where Noor starred on World Cup debut, Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott would have no qualms about pitching the rising star into Monday’s World Cup match against Sri Lanka in Pune.
“The sky’s the limit for him (Noor),” said Trott, with the former England batsman adding: “It’s a real talent for such a young lad to be able to get that many revs on the ball and spin it the amount he does.
“That’s all I say to him just keep spinning it as much as you can.”