The moment emerging New Zealand cricket talent Muhammad Abbas first walked as a baby he reached for a bat.
Cricket has been a lifelong passion for Abbas ever since and it’s not surprising given his bloodlines – former Pakistan first-class cricketer Azhar Abbas, who also played for Auckland and Wellington, is his father.
The 19-year-old has been the talk of the under-19 men’s nationals at Lincoln this week for Wellington, who he only linked up with four weeks ago. The Abbas’ shifted south from Auckland after Azhar was appointed Wellington Cricket’s new pace bowling coach.
Abbas is tipped for a bright future and demonstrated his class, scoring back-to-back unbeaten centuries to open the tournament this week. Keep going the way he is and he could one day become the first Black Cap of Pakistan origins.
* Mitchell Santner loving Pakistan pitches as Black Caps level ODI series at 1-1
* Black Caps level ODI series against Pakistan as Devon Conway leads way with ton
* A sport sweeping the continent: The making of the European Cricket League
Batting at four, he struck 101 not out from 68 balls in Sunday’s 50-over win over a Northern Districts side, featuring England test coach Brendon McCullum’s son, Riley, who hit 48 in the same match.
A day later, he was in the runs again, notching 103 not out as Wellington beat Central Districts by eight wickets on Monday, chasing down 267.
“[Back-to-back under-19 hundreds] it’s very rare, but it was the quality of the hundreds. He just made it look easy and no disrespect to the bowlers, he played it pretty well,” New Zealand Cricket high performance coach Paul Wiseman said.
New Zealand scored a 79-run win in Karachi, courtesy of a big second-wicket partnership between Devon Conway and Kane Williamson.
Abbas, a top order right-hand bat, doesn’t just score runs. He is viewed as a genuine all-rounder, bowling left-arm swing. He opens the bowling for his Wellington under-19 side and has either taken the new ball or been the first change throughout his career.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan’s second most populous city, Abbas moved to New Zealand when he was one after Azhar ended up at Wellington’s Karori club in 2004, via Richard Petrie, the former New Zealand, Canterbury and Wellington bowler.
He discovered cricket at an early age and has never looked back.
“The first day I walked my dad gave me a bat and we played a little bit of tennis ball. I started playing all my cricket at my cricket club, Eden Roskill [in Auckland]he said.
Softly spoken, Abbas lets his cricket do the talking.
He was 11 when he brought up his first century for Western against Central in an Auckland year seven tournament.
In his first year at high school at Auckland’s King’s College, he played a couple of warm-up matches for the first XI and broke into the side the following season – spending four years in the team where he was coached by former New Zealand spinner Dipak Patel.
“There’s a lot to like. He makes the game look pretty easy. He’s got a lovely bowling action and with the bat he hits it cleanly and times it beautifully,” Wiseman said.
“The world is light on all-rounders, so it’s nice to see.”
Wellington under-19 coach Neeraj Chawla has spent the past few seasons coaching against Abbas when he was a member of the Auckland age-group side.
The Abbas family settled in the capital in December and Chawla was delighted he no longer had to come up with plans to counter him.
Chawla has worked with many Wellington age-group cricketers and said Abbas was a special player, reminding him a lot of Rachin Ravindra, who graduated on to play for New Zealand.
“He thinks differently about the game. He thinks about the game for his age very differently. He’s very mature about his thinking and the way he looks at the game.
“We’re happy to see him playing for us and scoring those hundreds.”
Watching Abbas bat at Lincoln this week, Chawla said it was a joy seeing him out in the middle. For someone so young, he had the full range of strokes and could quickly assess the match situation and pitch conditions.
“He doesn’t think about anything apart from playing good cricket and I don’t think he feels anything like that [pressure]. I’ve been talking to him quite a bit about the sport and he doesn’t really think about all those things. He just knows he wants to keep getting better every day.”
Abbas focused more on his bowling growing up, learning everything from father Azhar, who was a right-arm pace bowler and enjoyed a successful domestic career in Pakistan.
He marveled at old video footage of Pakistan left-arm swing legend Wasim Akram as a youngster before discovering the Black Caps and idolizing another left-arm quick in Trent Boult. Kane Williamson is his batting role model, even meeting him once at a hotel and sharing a conversation.
Azhar’s influence on his game had been huge, teaching him everything from a young age and developing his skills.
“He’s been there for all my cricket career so far. He’s been the mentor and has given me all the coaching and has done everything to support me and grow my game, whether that’s with the ball, bat, or fielding. He’s the one who’s helped me grow my game the most.”
Having only been in Wellington since December, Abbas has joined his father’s former club, Karori, and is excited to represent them for the first time after the under-19 nationals.
Both Wiseman and Chawla said Abbas would be comfortable playing domestic cricket, but he wanted to be patient, keep improving, and wait for his opportunity. The next step in his career would be to break through into the Wellington Firebirds and secure a domestic contract for next season.
“He needs to keep progressing both skills because it’s such a sought after thing having an all-rounder. He’s got a great work ethic. He’s a smart cricketer. I don’t think it will be too long before Wellington are looking pretty closely at him,” Wiseman said.
Abbas will study second year commerce at Victoria University this year.