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Abrar Ahmed: Charting the rise and skills of the mystery spinner who tore through England on Test debut

From injuries to a "knockout" googly, how Abrar Ahmed rose through the ranks to rip through England's top order on his Pakistan debut; Ahmed, 24, took seven wickets on his first day as a Test match cricketer in Multan

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Pakistan debutant Abrar Ahmed made a dream start to his Test career as he tore through England's top order with a seven-wicket haul on the first morning in Multan

Four balls into his Test career, you could have been fooled that Abrar Ahmed was just your run-of-the-mill leg-spinner.

The ball was turning, yes, but conventionally so and away from Zak Crawley. The opener, just like England at 38-0 in that ninth over, appeared comfortable.

Then, came the most well-disguised of sucker punches.

Crawley prodded a bat out wide at a ball that pitched well outside off stump, only to see the ball rip off the Multan surface and spin back through the gate. It was spin from a googly that an off-spinner would be proud of; variation from a bowler with just 14 first-class matches under his belt that Crawley just could not see coming.

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Pakistan debutant Abrar Ahmed beats Zak Crawley's defence in his first over as a Test cricketer, dismissing the opener for 19

Abrar was only just getting started.

Four more wickets would be taken by the inexperienced 24-year-old in a breathless morning session as he became the third-ever bowler - and first for Pakistan - to take a five-for on Test debut before lunch. Ben Stokes and Will Jacks would fall soon afterwards, meaning all of England's top seven were dismissed by the same man.

Pakistan have another 'mystery spinner', one England better hope they are able to solve in a hurry.

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Who is Abrar? From a career-threatening injury to tearing through England

Abrar is a mystery spinner in every sense of the phrase.

Only playing tape-ball cricket as a youngster, Abrar exploded onto the scene once getting a hard ball in his hands and took 53 wickets in an under-19 season before becoming a shock Pakistan Super League pick for the Karachi Kings.

His career only looked to be heading in one direction.

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Ben Duckett was dismissed for 63 after being trapped lbw by Abrar Ahmed

But then came a crushing injury that would rule him out of the game for two long years. Abrar suffered a stage five stress fracture, which some felt was down to overwork as a youngster and some believed was down to his unusual action. There were even temptations to convert him into an off-spinner.

Abrar rightly refrained, although there was still a long road back to top-level cricket. Abrar, fresh off ripping it up for local side Sindh's second XI, wasn't picked by any PSL team in 2021, and rebuilt his reputation with the red ball having previously been seen as a limited-overs specialist. His experience, while limited, in first-class cricket has been spectacular.

Highly thought of by Pakistan's selectors, he was handed a first call-up for the pre-World Cup T20 series against England, although would remain a mystery to Stokes and co having not been selected for any of the seven matches.

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Abrar Ahmed deceives Ben Stokes with an incredible googly on day one of the second Test between Pakistan and England in Multan

Not dwelling on that small setback, Abrar continued his fine form for Sindh and in the on-going red-ball campaign, he has 43 wickets at an average of 21.95. For the second Test in Multan, a spinning wicket, Pakistan finally turned to Abrar.

"Abrar has been on the radar since his debut first-class season in 2020-21," said Pakistan selector Mohammad Wasim.

"He is in outstanding form this season, so it makes sense to make him available to Babar Azam so he can use the confidence and talent of this youngster in the upcoming series."

How Abrar made his mark on debut | Broad: It was very special

After the early wicket of Crawley, England attempted to fight fire with fire against Abrar.

Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope put on a quickfire 79, though the opener was dismissed lbw by Abrar before the stand-in wicketkeeper ruefully top-edged a reverse sweep.

Joe Root, so often the master of spin, was also dumfounded by Abrar with a beauty, a traditional leg-spinner that trapped him plum after gripping off the surface. Harry Brook did not last long before going after the spinner, launching one into the air to mid-off.

That last wicket made Abrar only the third debutant bowler to take five wickets before lunch and the first in over 70 years, after Frederick Spofforth (Australia in 1879) and Alf Valentine (West Indies in 1950).

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Morning and afternoon highlights from day one of the second Test between Pakistan and England in Multan

Stokes launched a number of sixes off Abrar after lunch, but the wickets would keep tumbling. The England captain was bamboozled by that deceptive googly, which beautifully beat his outside edge and clipped off stump. Jacks would follow, with another lbw for Abrar making it a sensational seven on debut.

"It was very special," said an impressed England seamer Stuart Broad on Sky Sports Cricket. "To do that on debut... you've got Root and Stokes already in your Test-wicket column. It's an exciting place to be."

He added: "There wouldn't have been much footage of him prior to today.

"Fourteen first-class games, there wouldn't have been up-close footage of hand positions or anything like that, and whatever you watch on an iPad or a screen, there's no better use of getting used to something than being out there.

Abrar Ahmed's subtle changes for his variations
Image: Abrar Ahmed's subtle changes for his variations

"It's fantastic bowling right from the start, because it's the fifth ball and Zak Crawley arguably can't do much about that. He's executed it perfectly. In your first over of Test cricket it's very easy to bowl that googly down the leg side, Zak gets a look at it and knows what the googly is.

"But once Zak's faced more of him, once the batters have faced him more, you get to know the cues. It takes a bit of time, and you've got to face it in the middle."

After muddling through 132 balls (7-114) of Abrar's Test debut, England will hope they have started to get to grips.

They have been used to mystery Pakistan spinners over the years - take the great Saqlain Mushtaq - and they may well have a new problem in the shape of Abrar.

"He never missed a length," stated Sky Sports Cricket's Mark Butcher. "His stock delivery doesn't turn a lot, but the googly... it turns a lot more. It's a real knockout punch."

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