Asad Shafiq exhibited responsibility and technical efficiencies when Pakistan needed the most…..
The last time Pakistan visited England in 2016, Asad Shafiq was being touted as a player who had the potential to be the best batsman in Pakistan cricket. Younis Khan was in terrible form back then, and with Azhar Ali opening the innings, Shafiq was the natural number 3 in the squad. At The Oval, coming in at number 4 – as Yasir Shah had been sent in as a nightwatchman – Shafiq scored a brisk hundred and even though Younis did score a double hundred, it was the youngster who impressed.
After three fifties in his first four Test innings, the cricketer was out for a pair against West Indies batting at number 3 and when he was pushed down the order – a spot many believed was better off for him – he did strike 137 in the Day-Night Test match but with the emergence of a young Babar Azam, Shafiq was pushed up to bat at number 4.
However, since the England tour in 2016, while he did score two crucial tons and five fifties in the next 14 Tests, he also had two pairs and 14 scores of less than 25 in this interim. While Ali’s average leapfrogged to 45.84 since then, Shafiq’s stands at 39.74. However, against England at Lord’s in the first Test match, he proudly claimed his spot amongst the leadership group with a well-made 59 that not only exposed the continued struggles of the English bowlers but also reemphasised the emergence of a new and fearless breed of cricketers from Pakistan.
Admittedly, Shafiq has struggled to grab the extra responsibilities that came his way once Younis and Misbah Ul Haq retired, but his knock against England yesterday was one of the best in the last few years. He swept debutant Dominic Bess into the stands and even though he did play away from his body on a number of occasions against James Anderson, he was lucky to escape. He survived a caught-behind review off the bowling of Mark Wood when the ball had hit his elbows and was lucky enough to be put down by Dawid Malan at second slip when the player failed to grab a rebound catch off Jos Buttler. Even as the bowlers were trying hard to make in-roads, Shafiq stood firm and patient, showing great adaptability and technique en route his 59 off 142 balls.
While it is normally agreed that the secret of surviving a good spell of swing bowling is to play the ball late, Shafiq played the ball further down the pitch. He struck the ball 2.19 meters in front of the stumps on an average, which is almost 0.15 meters more than the contact position of Buttler. He not only batted out of his crease, he also struck almost 76% of his shots off the front foot against pace. Hence, even though he hit the ball earlier, his forward stride meant that he never let his eyes away from the ball, which is something that Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur is very particular about.
He put on 84 runs for the fourth wicket with Babar Azam, who too raced away to a well-made 68 before he was out injured. After getting under the English bowlers for a major part of his innings, Shafiq had a rather anti-climactic end to his innings. On normal days, he is a great cutter of the short ball – averaging over 420 with the cut shot since 2014, but the technical changes that he made eventually led to his downfall. Ben Stokes bowled a short and a quick delivery that caught the Pakistani off guard and even though his new technique helped him to survive swing bowling, he was unable to face the speed of the shorter ball.
However, the player did show glimpses of maturity and even though he missed out on a well-deserving place in the Honours Boards, he did steer his team to safety.