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“Had Sohail not been injured, Masood might not even feature in the team. But that’s how Pakistan cricket has been since they started off their journey. In Pakistan, great performers emerge unexpectedly. Certainly, mysterious world of Pakistan cricket”

Be it Javed Miandad or Inzamam-ul-Haq or be it Younis Khan or Misbah-ul-Haq, one thing these masters always ensured and which is a balance between the top and middle order. Even though there was a certain Mudassar Nazar, Mohsin Khan, Amir Sohal or Saeed Anwar; at the end of the day, the security was always ensured either by Miandad or Inzamam and when Pakistan entered into MisYou era, their job became tougher than Javed and Inzi as because Pakistan were not blessed with an Anwar or Mudassar.

Misbah and Younis had to display the best of resolves under pressure and ensure the utmost balance between the top and middle order. Obviously, Pakistan enjoyed some memorable moments courtesy of Younis and Misbah. Their departure definitely created a vacuum and it was up to Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq to carry on the legacy, but none of them seems to possess the ability to instill composure when the batting order is under a threat.

At Centurion and Cape Town, what Pakistan needed the most, was resolve in the batting order. While the expected batters frustrated, someone named Shan Masood stood up boldly to face the challenge. In fact, this guy was not expected to feature in the first XI, but at Centurion in the first Test, he came out to bat at number 3 and since hen until the third day of second Test, Masood has been able to cut an impressive figure.

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A knee injury ruled Haris Sohail out of the first Test and even during the South Africa tour in 2013, Sohail was ruled out due to an ankle injury. He came back to the Test side after a brief break due to several injuries, but failed to create an impact. While, Masood has been scoring runs consistently in the domestic arena and challenged the spot as an opener as Pakistan hierarchy is continuously asked about the credibility of Imam-ul-Haq’s place.

Also read: Pakistan’s bowling lacked extra bit of pace

Those who follow Pakistan cricket regularly, to them, Masood is not someone unknown. Five years ago, the world first came to know about Masood who smashed a brilliant 75 runs by scripting scintillating strokes against South Africa in Abu Dhabi, which impressed many and when his hundred at Pallekele helped Pakistan to win a Test series in Sri Lanka in 2015, it was thought, Pakistan’s search for  better opener is coming to an end. But like the so-called talented customers of the past, Masood showed signs of inconsistency.

Since that eventful hundred at Pallekele, his scores read: 2, 1, 54, 1, 9, 21, 59, 7, 16 and 21. James Anderson, Shannon Gabriel and Rangana Herath did not give him any respite and his technical abilities came under scrutiny against quality bowlers. He lost his place and for the last 14 months, he would work harder on his shortcomings.

“The biggest thing for me has been that I’ve played a lot of cricket (while being out of the team). I know we undermine domestic cricket a lot, but I’ve gone back to domestic cricket and played a lot of games,” Masood said while talking to the media.

“What also helps is that after a very long time, we had a few good A tours. We played NZ, England, the Australian team,” he added.

He said, “As a cricketer, you just want to play more and more games and that’s the only way you will get better. As much work you do outside the field, it doesn’t matter until you go inside and perform. That’s what will give you the experience to take on international cricket”.

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In Abu Dhabi in 2013, Shan’s tendency was to pivot on the front foot from the word go and the boat came down in a rather angled way – technical fragility, which don’t trouble on flat decks.  But as soon as a quality bowler notice this, you have no way to escape. Masood learned this through the hard ways.

At Centurion and Cape Town, one could notice how well Masood prepared himself to face the most volatile attack in the world on testing tracks. Playing with hard hands and relying on back foot stroke-play are a must to fetch runs in SENA countries. But the Pakistani top and middle order batsmen played shots as if they were playing in the Middle East. They were easily peppered by the short balls and anything bowled around the offstump line, kissed their outside edge – knowing your offstump and leaving the ball are a part and parcel of five-day batting, which Pakistan forgot.

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But Masood has been a different batsman altogether. Batting at number 3, he did not rush, but first of all spent time at the crease to get adapted to the situation and his back lift, which came straight in line with the keeper and confidence on the back foot helped him to get behind the line of the ball earlier than other batsmen of Pakistan team. He could defend the ball better against the back-of-a-length deliveries bowled by Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier and Dale Steyn. He watched the ball better by keeping his head down while defending and whenever he thought of executing strokes, he played with soft hands.

As long as Masood stayed at the crease, it always seemed Pakistan have hope and today at Cape Town he was instrumental in scripting a hundred-run stand with the swashbuckling Aad Shafiq.  It built a solid foundation for the rest to capitalize. Asad and Babar fired, but Pakistan were only able to take a slender lead and take the Test to Day 4.

There would be more analysis about Shafiq and Babar’s counterattacks, but many would forget the solidity of Masood, which has been the bright spot in Pakistan’s batting amid disaster. He is proving to be the vital cog, who can maintain the balance between top and middle order in future.

Had Sohail not been injured, Masood might not even feature in the team. But that’s how Pakistan cricket has been since they started off their journey. In Pakistan, great performers emerge unexpectedly. Certainly, mysterious world of Pakistan cricket.

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