Two youngsters stepped up to resuscitate the tattered Pakistan innings at Dublin……
The setting is perfect. 51,556 days for their first Test match is a rather long time. But Test cricket is all about patience and if Ireland had to wait that long, the rewards were only going to be sweeter. Yet the 51,557th day, the day when they were supposed to take the field in whites for the first time, was washed out and Ireland’s first day of Test cricket had taught them a valuable lesson – patience.
Day 2 began with a bang as the Irish seamers hit the right channels to have a young Pakistani outfit grappling under unfamiliar conditions. From 13/2 they were lifted to 71/2 but soon lost wickets in clusters to succumb to 159/6. It seemed to be a dream day for Ireland. Not in their wildest dreams would they have expected to fight right from the word go and reap immediate rewards.
Test cricket wasn’t supposed to be this easy and they would learn that in the next few hours as two uncelebrated members of the Pakistan side – Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf – stitched together an eye-catching century partnership to make the Irish bowlers toil hard.
A feature of the duo’s partnership was the contrasting, yet somehow positive, style exhibited by the two batsmen. If Shadab was more conventional, Ashraf was aesthetically a treat to watch, his feet moving in perfect sync to the conditions on offer and his technique impressing one and all.
If Shadab was strong off the back foot with his cut and pulls, Ashraf drive elegantly and the different strengths further complicated Ireland’s day. Ireland bowlers, who were meticulous right through the first two sessions, started offering more width and Shadab and Ashraf were quick to latch on.
With the ball moving around, the best manner to counter the host’s attack was to stick around and play positively. Not for once did the duo appear uncertain or fidgety. Without really getting bogged down at one end, they kept rotating the strike and pushing for the extra run.
Even when the edge was found, they were played with soft hands and the ball evaded the fielders. Shadab, in particular, has shown some real talent with the bat previously and further stamped it down with a knock worthy of appreciation.
Ashraf, on the other hand, barely took a risk but kept the scoreboard ticking constantly. He manipulated the field and played percentage cricket to taunt Ireland’s very same bowlers who had appeared threatening with the new ball.
What stood out in the partnership was the composure of the duo. Batting at no.7 and no.8, the two aren’t the best Sherlock – Watson pair going around but worked around the bowling to present a real glimpse into the future of Pakistan cricket. With just one Test match between them, Shadab and Ashraf showed immense character and played out a tough period where the bowlers were dominating proceedings.
Ashraf might have got a few chances en route his half-century but what particularly stood out was his nonchalant brilliance, something which naturally oozed out every time he drove, flicked or pulled. Anything with width outside the off-stump was religiously put away to the fence and his half-century came in an over that was put away for 18 runs.
Shadab Khan was the aggressor at the beginning of the partnership but he settled into a more mature role, one of a sheet anchor, as the innings progressed. His half-century came in 89 balls but he brought the kind of stability that the innings was lacking in.
While the opposition might be newbies making baby steps in Test cricket, Pakistan themselves are going through a period of metamorphosis. The lack of options in their lower middle-order is telling and filling the Misbah-sized hole might be tougher than they anticipate.
But like Ireland, Pakistan are making baby steps right now and the first one, if the indications are anything to go by, is a promising one. Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf seem like players capable of fulfilling an all-round role in the future. While the 19-year old leggie, filling in for Yasir Shah, seems quite the talent, Ashraf seemed to thrive under responsibility.
With Ireland having Pakistan’s best batsmen on the mat, two youngsters showed the way with an attractive partnership that looks all set to resume to further heights on day 3. Going by the excellent day’s play, Pakistan seem as motivated as Ireland to prove a point, and if these two can persist with their contrasting, yet highly impressive approach, Pakistan will have one less thing to worry about.