Zaidi confident ahead of Surrey T20 opener


Ashar Zaidi showed he is nicely in tune for Essex’s NatWest T20 Blast campaign by smacking a six second ball over the bowler’s head in a warm-up game this week.

The bars around the Cloudfm County Ground will empty at every one of Essex’s seven home group matches when the pint-sized left-hander strides out to the middle, starting tonight against Surrey.

The crowd-pleasing big-hitter, nicknamed Boom Boom, sounds like a boxer with tickets to sell when he says: “I am feeling quite confident about how hard I’ve been hitting the ball in the nets and in second-team games.

“My feeling is if the ball is there then I’ll back myself to hit it to the boundary, and the maximum option as well.”

Zaidi is box-office gold for Essex, not that they need to talk up the competition: tonight’s opening fixture is already sold out, and there is limited availability for the rest.

Zaidi’s statistics paint a picture of muscular power and skill. Others may have scored more runs, hit more sixes and posted a higher average in last year’s domestic competition. No one, though, bettered his seriously-high strike-rate of 168.83, and that is the measure of success in T20. Sixty-one per cent of his 363 runs came in boundaries, 23 of them clearing the ropes. He averaged more than 40 every time he went to the crease, which isn’t bad for primarily a middle-order batsman.

However, when asked to nominate the innings from 2016 that stood out to him, he went for one that only contained two fours and one six, but set up Essex for a three-run win at Hampshire.

“It was on a tricky wicket and showed how I could do a job,” he said of the comparatively pedestrian 43-ball 47.

“The big innings was the one against Middlesex at Lord’s when we had to win to qualify for the quarter-finals, and I got us over the line.” Left unsaid was that Zaidi smashed 38 off the last nine balls, and took just 24 deliveries to reach an unbeaten 59, his career-best T20 score.

“Sometimes,” he says, “the smaller totals to win a game are just as important. But I was pretty pleased with my efforts last year. Hopefully, I can repeat them this season.”

There was a hint of what may be to come at the end of April when he caned Hampshire for 72 not out from 40 balls in the opening Royal London Cup game. There were just the four sixes that day.

“How I get on in the T20 depends on how much opportunity I get,” says the Pakistani all-rounder, who turns 36 next week. “Will it be 10 overs or will it be four or five? That is why I am preparing myself for anything and everything, and if I’m asked to do a job, then I’ll try and stay until the end.”

Several times last year Zaidi was elevated in the batting order from No7 to four or five, usually to good effect. “The more time you spend out there the more chance you give yourself to build a decent innings. If you get 14 or 15 overs to bat there is the chance you can get 50 or 60 more runs out of it.

“If you are doing a finishing role, that is a completely different job because you know you literally have to tee off from ball one. Or if you’re chasing, you know you’ve got to score, like, 10 an over, or 13 an over, so the mindset is different. But I do prefer going in with plenty of time to myself.”

Last season, Essex flopped badly in the quarter-final against Nottinghamshire. This season, Zaidi has largely been a spectator as Essex have opened a sizeable gap at the top of the Specsavers County Championship, though he played a role with bat and ball in helping the county to the semi-final of the 50-over competition.

He says: “We’ve got to keep ticking along and keep the momentum going. This could be the year for us to lift the Championship – and do the double with the T20.” Boom boom times, indeed.