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Aarif comes to shorter version with intent

Dec 20, 2019 | CN Staff |

Adarsha Dhakal / Pokhara

Aarif Sheikh is unrecognizable now, but not by his appearance. A man once scrutinized for not being able to score freely is now hitting big sixes and scoring swiftly. His last two Pokhara Premier League scores are uncharacterstic of the standards he had set in the shorter version of the game.

On Friday against Dhangadhi Blues, Aarif stepped into the crease with his team Chitwan Rhinos in dire need of an innings that would lift the team from a mediocre state of 109-5 in 15 overs. He exactly did that. Together with another big-hitting Sunny Patel, Aarif stitched a crucial 72-run partnership outscoring the Indian recruit in a display of both class and aggression.

The man-of-the-match ended up making a flamboyant 47 not out off 20 deliveries that included four perfectly-timed sixes and two boundaries. Rhinos do have a long batting line up and another batsman might have stood up had it not been for Aarif. But he made sure it was his moment and no one can take it away from him.

That innings lifted Rhinos to a formidable 181-5 in 20 overs and ultimately a victory of 52 runs has pushed them closer to the playoffs – or may be the final too. Two days ago when Paras Khadka and Rohan Mustafa had notched up 117-run opening wicket partnership spearheading their total to a record high 203-3 against Butwal Blasters, Aarif had also finished with another 19-ball 40 laced with three sixes and three fours.

Although he has not made a half century so far in Pokhara, both of his innings were better than the 50s that he put on board in past's franchise Twenty20 leagues. In this format, he is now altogether a different player who never ceases to amaze everyone with big shots that normally come out of exquisite timing.

"I am very much focused on my role these days. If I take to the crease during the powerplays, my role would be different. I have to take a different approach, if I go after 15 overs. I am gradually getting into shape for the Twenty20s and I am glad that I managed to give a good finishing," Aarif told cricketingnepal.com.

Just few months ago, Aarif was hardly associated with Twenty20 competition. While he was lauded for some of his crucial innings in the one-dayers when Nepal jumped from Division 2 in Namibia to being a One Day International nation from the World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe last year, his inclusion in the Twenty20 side was often questioned.

In the 2018 ICC Twenty20 World Cup Asia Region Qualifer 'B', he made 13 runs from two matches he got to bat. As the team itself ran out of Twenty20 fixtures and his performance in the domestic franchise leagues comparatively deteriorated, Aarif had to sit out when Nepal claimed a maiden Twenty20 International Bilateral Series victory in the UAE at the start of 2019.

Aarif also missed out from the Nepali squad for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup Asia Region Final in July before he fought his way back into the team for October's Tri Series in Singapore where Nepal also played Test side Zimbabwe twice. He was just an anchor while getting involved in Nepal's record Twenty20 International partnership of 145 runs with then skipper Paras Khadka who had hammered country's first and fastest century in the format.

The next match against Zimbabwe loomed and although he didn't put enough numbers that could have given Nepal's first ever victory over a Test side, his approach towards the game hinted he was ready to reincarnate as a different batsman for Twenty20.

Up against a seaming William Mashinge, Aarif hit two boundaries and then perfectly pulls the debutante for a six over square leg. It was an approach never seen before. Aarif batted with the similar approach in the next two series – Oman Pentangular Series and South Asian Games cricket – but big numbers eluded him.

But he was already suggesting what he is up to now. The moment he came in to the crease at the TU ground against Sri Lanka U-23 in the SA Games, he lofted Kavishka Anjula for a straight six but ended up making 15-ball 19. He hit two sixes in the game.

"He has improved a lot because he has worked very hard. We are now seeing the result. I hope he continues the form into the national team as well. He has been doing well but sometimes when the team doesn't win, the individual performances go unnoticed," Paras told media after Aarif's 20-ball 47 against Blues.

"He is one of those few consistent guys who has been performing really well for the national team. I hope he prospers in the coming days because he is somebody who wants to do very well. Hopefully, we can create match winners like him. He has been very good for us and I hope good things for him in the future as well," the captain added.


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