Abrar Ahmed channels his inner Harry Potter as Pakistan ‘wizard’ leaves Ben Stokes in a spin

Abrar Ahmed - Pakistan's mystery-spinner Abrar Ahmed leaves Ben Stokes open-mouthed - Anjum Naveed/AP
Abrar Ahmed - Pakistan's mystery-spinner Abrar Ahmed leaves Ben Stokes open-mouthed - Anjum Naveed/AP

England came unstuck on the opening day of the second Test when Pakistan’s mystery-spinner Abrar Ahmed took seven wickets for 114 runs on his first international appearance.

Abrar’s dismissal of England captain Ben Stokes summed up the amount of mystery he brought to his Test debut. Flicking the ball one way or the other at decent pace, without any obvious clue to the batsman, Abrar beat Stokes’s outside edge and hit his off stump with a googly which had Stokes registering his amazement open-mouthed.

Abrar’s success came as no surprise to the head coach of his first-class team, Sindh (formerly Karachi). Leicestershire’s head coach Paul Nixon is in charge of the Sindh team as the Pakistan Cricket Board attempts to diversify its coaching structure.

“We call him [Abrar] Harry Potter in the dressing-room because of his glasses and because he is a bit of a wizard,” said Nixon, after watching Abrar on television from his hotel in Karachi. “He’s a brilliant character and full of fun, and he has so many Superman bands for taking five wickets in an innings we also call him Superman.”

“This season we’ve persuaded him to bowl his normal ball (the leg-break) a bit quicker and to show his googly a bit more. He bowls two googlies, one that turns a little and another that turns a lot.” Which one bowled Stokes? Nixon, who was busy coaching at the time of the England captain’s dismissal, said he could not tell and would have to ask Abrar – which does not bode well for England’s second innings.

“We’ve bowled him [Abrar] a lot as first-change this year for Sindh,” Nixon added, just as Pakistan did in the opening session. “He’s very accurate and loves bowling lots of overs. He’s got a very natural length, gets drift and builds pressure.”

Abrar has also benefited from some overseas input in making himself fitter. Sindh’s strength and conditioning coach is the former Yorkshire left-arm spinner Ian Fisher, and Abrar’s work with him is “very professional” according to Nixon. But Abrar’s batting, Nixon warns, is comparable to Phil Tufnell’s in that he gives himself room against pace.

Abrar took his first five wickets in the opening session, although it was an extended one of two and a half hours because of a lengthened lunch interval to accommodate Friday prayers. Only one other bowler had taken five wickets in the first session of his debut, the West Indian left-arm spinner Alf Valentine against England in 1950.

Abrar was on course to become only the fourth bowler in Test cricket to take all ten wickets in an innings when he took the first seven England wickets, but the leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood nipped in with two wickets in two balls to deny him, and the last three in all.

Abrar did have ideal conditions in his favour. England cannot have expected the Multan pitch to turn so much on day one because they selected four seamers, bringing in Mark Wood for the injured Liam Livingstone.

Abrar used the leg-break for his stock delivery, as when he began his Test career with his first four balls at Zak Crawley. The fifth was his variation, the googly, which dipped, deceived and dismissed Crawley as he lunged forwards, bowled through the gate.

England might be criticised in some quarters for being gung-ho in their use of the sweep and reverse-sweep shots, but they made Abrar pay a price for his seven wickets, taking him for six runs an over. Had they batted conventionally – pushing forward defensively and edging the odd single – they might have been bowled out as cheaply as they were in the Karachi Test of 1983/84, the last time (arguably the only other time) that England have been caught on a turner in Pakistan.

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Ben Duckett missed a sweep against Abrar but only after he had scored relatively plentiful runs with his favourite stroke. Ollie Pope was caught reverse-sweeping by what was originally backward point, but it might not be his choice of shot that was debatable so much as his execution: Pope reverse-swept almost always at the same angle, rather than developing a sweep square of the wicket to vary the angles.

Joe Root was beaten by Abrar’s stock leg-break on the back foot, while some of England’s tail-enders were rather too gung-ho – and yet Mark Wood managed to smack 36 off 27 balls in a counterattack which could prove decisive.

Abrar was omitted from Pakistan’s first Test XI in spite of being in the squad, but that might have worked to his benefit. Instead of bowling on a “road” in Rawalpindi, he could not have had more conducive conditions for his debut. After England had won the first Test in the nick of time, the pitch for the second Test was switched to a far friendlier surface for Pakistan’s spinners.

Abrar’s style is almost a replica of that of the Sri Lankan Ajantha Mendis who popularised this method almost 20 years ago by flicking the ball each way from the front of the hand. The surprise value of such a mystery-spinner is enormous, but gradually wears off. Mendis finished with 70 Test wickets, and although only 37 has not been selected for international cricket for seven years.