Afghanistan's 21-year-old left-arm wrist-spinner Waqar Salamkheil has taken the 2023 Caribbean Premier League (CPL) by storm, taking nine wickets in his first six matches and establishing himself as a member of Trinbago Knight Riders' (TKR) potent spin attack.
Although he turned out for Guyana Amazon Warriors in the first edition of the SKYEXCH 6IXTY tournament in 2022, Salamkheil caught the attention of cricket lovers and batsmen across the region by joining the four-time CPL champions TKR for the 2023 season.
In his very first game for TKR on August 30, Salamkheil had remarkable figures of four for 14 as TKR bowled out the Barbados Royals for a paltry score of 61 to get an emphatic 133-run win at Kensington Oval in Barbados.
New Zealand batsman Martin Guptill arguably stole the show with his unbeaten hundred off 58 balls. But with the emergence of Salamkheil, TKR captain Kieron Pollard has found a new weapon to bamboozle opposition batsmen. Salmkheil's first CPL scalp was a big one too, as the Afghan spinner had West Indies T20 international skipper Rovman Powell caught on the long-off boundary by Mark Deyal with his very first delivery in the tournament.
It was the grandest of entrances for Salamkheil, who has since followed up his debut CPL performance with figures of two for 21 and two for 18 respectively versus the defending champions Jamaica Tallawahs and his new favourite opposition, the Royals.
After TKR's dramatic two-run win over the Tallawahs in Kensington Oval on September 3, Pollard spoke about Salamkheil's impact as the young spinner walked away with the man-of-the-match award.
"With Waqar bowling – he's spinning the ball both ways – our batters in the Caribbean are not generally adept at playing spin bowling," Pollard said. "Having said that, I thought Waqar was brilliant."
In his maiden CPL season, Waqar has adapted seamlessly to the conditions and has been an absolute terror to right-handed batsmen, who account for eight of his nine wickets thus far. As the 2023 tournament heads to its final leg in Guyana, Salamkheil is fifth among the leading wicket-takers in the tournament and his debut spell of four for 14 is the best among all bowlers.
With just one international match to Salamkheil's name, it's fair to say Pollard and TKR have found a diamond in the rough.
At age 17, Salamkheil made his Test debut for Afghanistan versus Ireland in a one-off Test match in March 2019. Bowling alongside star spinner Rashid Khan, Salamkheil returned figures of two for 35 and two for 66 as Afghanistan defeated Ireland by seven wickets in Hyderabad, India, to get their first-ever Test win.
Back in November 2017, a 16-year-old Salamkheil made his first-class debut in Afghanistan, taking nine wickets across two innings for his Band-e-Amir Region team versus Boost Region in the Alokozay Ahmad Shah Abdali four-day tournament. Salamkheil ended the tournament tied for the most wickets (55), and grabbed six five-wicket hauls in just six matches to help Band-e-Amir Region capture the title.
If Salamkheil continues his upward trend, there will be more titles to follow in his career. TKR will want Salamkheil to help them to a fifth CPL crown by the end of the season.