Shoaib Malik is becoming the new Miandad and Inzamam of Pakistan cricket. Under pressure, he is the ice-cool hero, which Pakistan need…..
When Pakistan needed someone to dig them out of a dim situation, it took a 36-year-old all-rounder to take them home. Afghanistan once again managed to get 250-plus on the board and just like the other two matches, they seemed confident that they could pull this one off as well. Getting the wicket of Fakhar Zaman in the very first over of the chase, further added pressure on Pakistan.
Before Malik came into bat at No. 5, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam put on 154 for the second wicket, that got Pakistan back on track. The duo did not go at an express pace and by the time Imam was run out for a well made 80, the required run-rate was hovering around 6 an over. Azam too was dismissed soon after and it needed someone with some experience, someone who has been in these situations before to guide Pakistan. Malik turned out to be the perfect candidate.
The platform was set nicely for Pakistan and the key for them was to play out the 50 overs sensibly, with Malik staying at the crease till the end. Till he was at the crease, Pakistan were always going to be in the game. An experienced campaigner like him knows that it is important to keep the scoreboard ticking with ones and twos and also get the occasional boundary.
With 75 needed off the final 10 overs, both teams would have backed themselves. Pakistan still had 7 wickets in hand. Malik was still at the crease and the likes of Sarfraz Ahmed and Asif Ali were yet to follow. Afghanistan on the other hand, had overs of quality bowlers like Mujeeb ur Rahman, Gulbadin Naid and Rashid Khan left. It was anyone’s game. Once Haris Sohail and Sarfraz were dismissed at the end of the 45th over, Malik’s wicket in an over or two would have handed Afghanistan the match.
But Malik was well set by then and has been in such situations many times in the past to let this match slip by. After the battering Pakistan took against India in the previous match, Malik would have been all the more keen to get his side over the line this time.
He was so calm under pressure, completely trusting his tailenders to play sensibly. Asif Ali, Mohammad Nawaz and Hasan Ali managed to clear the fence one time each and that eased the pressure on Malik to knock the ball around for ones and twos. In fact, between overs 40 to 49, Malik had just hit one boundary. He had cleverly, got it down to 10 off the final over.
Aftab Alam was entrusted to bowl the final over of the match, he had 10 runs to defend. He would have known that Malik will look to find the fence in the first two or three balls of the over. Alam put the first ball in the blockhole. A dot. Good start.
However, in the second ball of the over, Alam tried to dig it in short, but the ball bounced perfectly on Malik’s waist and he clobbered it over the fence for a six. 4 was now required of 4. Malik managed to guide the ball on middle and leg past short fine leg to pick up a boundary and Pakistan had done it. They had sneaked to a 3-wicket victory. Malik, in the end, remained unbeaten on 51 off 43.
Being a senior player is not only an honour, but also a big responsibility. In the absence of Mohammad Hafeez, Malik is the most senior player in the Pakistan side. Malik enjoys this responsibility and there is little doubt that many youngsters in the team look up to him and seek advice. A versatile batsman like Malik, has batted in every position from 1 to 10 for Pakistan in ODIs. He has played most games at Nos 5 and 6 and is very well aware of the responsibilities that go with it. His responsibility is what MS Dhoni has for India – Finish the innings on a high.
After breaking into the Pakistan team as an off-spinner, who could bat a bit, Malik’s batting exploits over the years earned him a promotion in the batting order and soon enough, established himself as a valuable all-rounder in the team. With over 7,000 runs and 150 wickets to his name, he is one of the finest all-rounders Pakistan has produced. Malik is still one of the fittest in the squad and like wine, he has certainly improved with age.
Malik will once again be key for Pakistan in the ICC World Cup 2019 in England. Pakistan will hope to have the likes of Hafeez and Imad Wasim back in the side for that. After their exploits in the Champions Trophy 2017, Pakistan cannot be taken lightly in the mega event next year.