“However, cricket is rarely a game of ifs and buts. The truth remains that it was Sohail’s undeniably crucial knock, which had initially seemed to steal away all the momentum away from Pakistan, that gave them the luxury to attack”
Till a month ago, Haris Sohail was termed as the player who was unable to break the shackles of the 30s and 40s, as he fell regularly after getting some solid starts in tough conditions. In three games in Ireland and England earlier this year in May, the Pakistani had scores of 31, 7, 39, 39* and 8 against his name, but what many failed to see was that each of the respective innings was preparing him for the hard grind in the Test arena ahead.
His knock off 39 at Lord’s, in particular, was richly rewarding as he stuck around for 95 deliveries on a surface where the ball was darting around. With possibly two of the best bowlers in the condition bowling to him, Sohail was an image of calmness as he played and missed and played and missed yet again. However, in his determination to not give up and wait for the good ball instead, he must have learnt how tough Test cricket actually is – it requires perseverance and patience; a deep understanding of the situation and an ability to adapt to every condition.
At Lord’s, as he weathered the threat of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, and then reaped the rewards when he bunted a cover-drive on one knee or smashed a straight drive with elegance, Sohail displayed that he was ready to face the challenges of the five-day format. His ability to hold one end up, tire out the bowlers and eventually put on a meaningful score contributed to the team’s win at Lord’s, and Pakistan is on the verge of a memorable triumph at Dubai following Sohail’s Herculean efforts once more.
His second Test hundred – an arduous knock of 147 off 421 deliveries in the second Test against New Zealand- was tough. It contained long periods of stonewalling and boring phases of just playing the ball back to the bowler, which would have sent the sparse crowd present into slumber. However, the almost never-ending knock was interspersed with such immaculate shots that were timed to perfection that it was tough to not wonder at the skill that Sohail possessed. His slice towards backward point off Neil Wagner showed his positive intent and there were some late slices in the gap between point and gully as well.
The bad deliveries were punished and there was a drive with the full face of the bat as Colin de Grandhomme failed to latch on to the ball in his follow-through on time. The large pauses of stillness were punctuated with the most admirable shots and though it forced the critics to question his ploy of wasting deliveries on a good track, Sohail was aware that an extra-aggressive approach was not the way to go on the day.
He realized that the wickets at Dubai had been in use constantly since September. He was aware of the damage that Ajaz Patel could cause if a player mindlessly went after the shots. He assessed that a score of 400 could provide New Zealand with a real challenge, not only because they had to bat fourth on the track but also because Pakistan had Yasir Shah in the ranks – a bowler capable of inflicting irreparable damage, both to a team’s confidence and their progress in the game.
Thus, he stuck around and took on the responsibility. By intelligently navigating the turn of Patel and slowly batting New Zealand out of the game, he showed his expertise. He stopped trying too hard because that knock of 39 at Lord’s had shown him that desiring quick runs was often not the result. Sometimes patience was the answer.
“I got out in the 30s [in England], sometimes I got a good ball, a couple of times I panicked and threw my wicket away,” he had said after he got his debut hundred against Australia last month. “Here I was consciously trying to move out of that situation where you can panic.
“That was the one thing in my mind throughout this innings, that I need not panic. The time to score runs will come and I just need to cash in then, so when I got out of those panic situations, the runs started flowing.”
The “boring” partnership of 194 runs that he stitched with Babar Azam in 70.1 overs was excruciating to watch, but as Yasir was ripping apart the Kiwi players in the first innings, the importance of the knock could not be missed. On a track that was slowly beginning to break, a spell or two of good bowling by Patel could have swayed the match completely. Maybe an aggressive approach could have proved disastrous; possibly New Zealand would have been closer to Pakistan’s first innings score after their’s ended.
However, cricket is rarely a game of ifs and buts. The truth remains that it was Sohail’s undeniably crucial knock, which had initially seemed to steal away all the momentum away from Pakistan, that gave them the luxury to attack. By not panicking and by taking the game as it came, Sohail presented us a Test innings that had all that the format stands for – patient resilience, unhurried aggression, a clear mindset and oodles of perseverance.