The rest of the team was waiting in the dressing room; Hasan Ali was peeping through the closed frosted door of the press-conference room, trying to catch Nawaz’s attention, but Nawaz’s focus was firmly on the questions and the cameras. Hasan even shoved open the door at one point, making a clanging noise that made everyone look his way. It made no difference to Nawaz. He was in his zone, just like he had been on the field earlier.
Nawaz isn’t your regular blockbuster hero, but has the reputation of being that proper utility player who can give you a quick cameo in the lower-middle order and bowl four good overs on many days. On the field, at the Asia Cup, he has been quite a livewire too, looking to cut out angles and fire in throws on the bounce to the wicketkeeper. He is essentially always in the game, sniffing for chances where he can contribute and give an edge to his team.
These are traits of a player who is innately confident in his abilities, yet knows that he has to work doubly hard because it’s the kind of a role that can so easily be passed on to someone else. Because the contributions you make aren’t big enough to take centre stage, even if they may not be insignificant.
On Sunday, he took centre stage. His four no-frills overs were just about perfect. He was in perfect sync with Shadab Khan, the legspinner, as the two gave away just 56 runs in eight overs, also picking up three wickets between them in the middle overs to trigger India’s slowdown after they had threatened 200. Nawaz had done more than a commendable job, that included the wicket of the in-form Suryakumar Yadav in the tenth over when India were positively flying.
“I was feeling the pressure, but positive pressure,” Nawaz said. “Not the negative pressure. I knew I could do it. I just needed to focus on my batting and execute my skills”
Nawaz’s is a smooth and rhythmic action. He uses his angles well and mixes them up with an effective arm-ball. For someone who has a lovely loop when he gives the ball air, he was a touch flatter on Sunday, but that may have been influenced by the situation when he came into bowl with Pakistan looking at limiting damage. He also shortened his lengths nicely on the few occasions batters gave him the charge.
If Nawaz thought his four overs would be his defining act on the night, it wasn’t. In a move aimed at disrupting India’s two legspinners in Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravi Bishnoi and lengthening the batting, Pakistan sent Nawaz in at No. 4 in the ninth over with Pakistan 63 for 2, needing 115 off 68 balls. His contribution was a 20-ball 42 that changed the momentum, even as Mohammad Rizwan at the other side fought through pain after having injured himself on the field.
The secret to Nawaz’s success with the bat on the night was in not predetermining his shots. He didn’t commit himself on the front foot, mindful of how India’s short-ball plans had felled Pakistan in their first meeting exactly a week ago. He was merely seeing the ball and reacting. It helped that Chahal and Hardik Pandya kept missing their lengths.
To Bishnoi, there was a concerted effort to play for the wrong’un or the sliders. This also helped him nail a big six into the leg side. Nawaz looked like he played with an uncluttered mind. He wasn’t going to be overly cautious and deviate from his template of going after the bowling. By the time he was out, Pakistan’s target was a mere 46 off 27 with seven wickets in hand.
“We wanted to keep the right-left combination going,” Nawaz said about his promotion. “If a left-hander [Fakhar Zaman] fell, I was to go in. I wanted to be clear in my mind about what I wanted to execute.
“We needed ten-plus an over. As youngsters, you want to play in such games and execute under pressure. In such a high-pressure game to play an innings like this gives me massive confidence as a player and in my growth. I will work harder to manage the rising expectations so that I can deliver like a proper allrounder.”
Being a “proper allrounder” has taken time happening, mainly because of his inconsistency in T20s. He made his T20I debut six years ago, but had featured in only 32 games prior to Sunday’s. Around 25% his career T20I runs came on Sunday, in his bristling 42. Before that, there were just 124 runs in 14 innings. But on Sunday, there was a method to his approach, aggression that wasn’t uncontrolled and, above all, the calmness to deal with the pressure.
“I was feeling the pressure, but positive pressure, not the negative pressure,” he said. “I knew I could do it. I just needed to focus on my batting and execute my skills.”
The focus and the execution were both spot on. And the celebrations were delayed, but not denied.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo