Cricket: Mahmood the winner in contrasting big-name imports

By David Leggat

The Auckland Aces batsman Azhar Mahmood in action. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The Auckland Aces batsman Azhar Mahmood in action. Photo / Brett Phibbs

If there was one moment which had a mano a mano zing to it in Auckland's cracking win over Hampshire at the Champions League this week, it came on the final ball of the 14th over.

Auckland's class import, Azhar Mahmood, was facing the last ball of his Pakistani compatriot and former teammate Shahid Afridi's four-over spell.

Mahmood slapped the ball high on to the bank at mid-wicket for six to reach his half century.

Shortly after, he returned to back-slaps from his teammates, having hit an unbeaten 55 off 31 balls - 44 coming in nine boundary hits - to carry Auckland to an eight-wicket win and ensure their participation in the tournament proper next week.

A short time earlier, the bouncy 37-year-old from the Punjab had taken five for 24 - and dropped a catch off his own final ball.

One of his wickets was Afridi, a colourful, big-hitting allrounder, increasingly looking little more than an ageing show pony.

Ludicrously batting as high as No 4 after a woeful world T20, he heaved his fifth delivery to deep mid on, having tried and failed to collar Mahmood from his first ball.

Afridi is still a demanding legspinner, but as a batsman he is a busted flush and looks simply to be collecting his cheque.

At Auckland, no one will begrudge Mahmood his fee.

The point is that some imports fit, others don't. No team in its right mind would take on Afridi these days; Mahmood is a cracking signing.

Okay he's not as rapid between the wickets as of yore. Set him alongside a hare such as Martin Guptill and the result of a hard-run two can be a sight.

He was top value for Auckland last season when they retained the HRV Cup to return for a second tilt at the Champions League, and proved this week what an astute signing he was.

His numbers tell a story.

In 141 T20s for teams as diverse as Surrey, Kings XI Punjab, Dhaka Gladiators and now Auckland, this hired gun has a strike rate of 140.24 and has taken 152 wickets at an economy rate of 7.68. You'd take those numbers any time.

Now figure this out: Mahmood, unwanted by his country for five years, played 21 tests as a lively seamer and a batsman good enough to go in as an opener, No 3, No 5 and No 6, along with 143 ODIs - and not a single T20 international. That defies logic.

Mahmood is proof that teams need to think carefully before handing out a decent chunk of cash for an overseas player. Just being a big name and demanding a fee commensurate with that reputation doesn't guarantee a successful outcome.

Stellar West Indian batsman Chris Gayle has won more man of the match awards in T20 cricket than any player, with 23. Guess who is equal second on 18 with Australian Brad Hodge?

(New Zealand's best, by the way, is Brendon McCullum with 10 awards.)

Any scouts from the world's various T20 leagues in Centurion on Thursday will have taken note.

"He's a quality act and it's a privilege and honour to be playing in the same team," is how Auckland's captain Gareth Hopkins described Mahmood after the Hampshire win.

He's just the sixth player to have recorded a five-wicket/half century double in a T20 game.

If his arm stays strong next week, Auckland's chances of making a real dent in their group will be substantially enhanced.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 23 Oct 2014 22:05:47 Processing Time: 398ms