Shadab Khan’s whirlwind batting at Leeds was entertaining……
Pakistan have made it a habit to spring a surprise. The followers of the game, so accustomed to the inconsistent ways of the cricket side, have made peace with the unpredictability that surrounds the much-loved team. Be it their rise to the title in the Champions Trophy last year when no one really gave them a chance or the surprise win over England (that too convincingly!) at Lord’s last week, the Sarfaraz Ahmed-led side has shown their mettle when one least expects it from them.
But with the pleasant surprises come the shocking ones too, wherein the nation has succumbed to ‘how-did-that-happen’ defeats, when victory was within their grasp. After a spectacular showing in London, the team moved on to Headingley, Leeds in search of a Test win after almost 21 years. As the skipper opted to bat first, in what later proved to be a matter of much debate, hopes of a series win engulfed the air. However, all it took was five overs for the hopes to turn into fear – without a run on the board and with Imam ul Haq already back in the pavilion, it looked grim and the battle to build a partnership ensued.
Stuart Broad’s fuller deliveries that seamed into the players disrupted the batting unit that had looked menacing just a few days ago. Chris Woakes, replacing Mark Wood for the game, teased the likes of Asad Shafiq and Haris Sohail with his length and even James Anderson tasted success (surprise!) after a straighter-than-straight delivery landed full and went on to dismantle the stumps as Sarfaraz tried to play all over the ball. With the team struggling at 78 for 5, the chips were down for the visiting side, who were back to playing like well, Pakistan!
However, the image of a lower order player trying to guide the team to safety is not really an unknown sight and on Friday (1st June), young Shadab Khan took on that responsibility. The spinner scored his third fifty on the tour, thus becoming only the third Pakistani after Umar Akmal to do so, as he played a counter-attacking innings to take the fight to the rival camp. His 56 came in 52 balls with 10 fours with exquisite square-cuts, glances off his pads and cover drives that took his strike-rate to 108.
Against Sam Curran, he slapped a juicy wide half-volley off his front foot through the covers and a few overs later he slashed away a short outside-off ball behind square on the off-side. He hit two consecutive boundaries off Woakes in the 44th over – one that was a half-volley that was shuffled for a flick towards the mid-wicket and the second, a remarkably controlled cover-drive that was hit with remarkable control. He brought up his fifty with a ball that was banged in short by Woakes. Shadab moved towards the leg-side in front of square for a pull to bring up his third successive half-century.
Not only has Shadab made a name for himself as a leg-spinner, picking up 7 wickets in his 3 Tests, but he has also displayed his immense temperament and his ability to perform under pressure, which for a 19-year-old is rather commendable. All his fifties have come when the team needed him the most. Against Ireland, his side were struggling at 153 for 5 and instead of going all-out, he settled in with Faheem Ashraf to score 55 in 105 balls. At Lord’s, Pakistan were 227 for 5 and here at Leeds, they were 78 after having lost 5 wickets.
Even in the 50 over format, all his three half-centuries have come with his side struggling on 101/6 (against Sri Lanka), 108/5 (New Zealand) and 57/5 against the Kiwis, which only go on to show his staggering determination to play well when the situation demands it the most. What stands out is his confidence in his own abilities, with his words portraying him as a player beyond his years.
“There was seam and swing when I was batting. I was only trying to do what I know. Whenever I go in to bat, I take it as my last innings. I try to go as long as I can. Because the more time you spend on the crease, the more you will score.” On Day 1 of the second Test, the Pakistani batsmen needed to do just that and it is hoped that they can learn a few tricks from their youngest member before the second innings gets underway.