Let’s come straight to the point.
Rahmat Shah is the Cheteshwar Pujara of Afghanistan.
In this flamboyant Afghanistan batting line-up, he is the one old-school batsman, who adds solidarity in the middle. Unlike the Shahzad and Co. Shah’s instinct doesn’t urge him to go for a big shot after playing a few dot deliveries. Instead, he waits for the bowler to make a mistake and provide him with a ‘hit-me’ ball. Shah’s First-Class strike-rate is 43.32 whereas he averages 44.64. He is clam, composed and most importantly knows his game.
And it was primarily his patient innings of 98, which put Afghanistan on the driver’s seat at Stumps on Day 2 of the Dehradun Test against Ireland.
Afghanistan started day trailing by 82 runs. In the first session, the wicket was expected to do a bit for the bowlers and Ireland were in no mood to give anything away. The field setting was as tight as it can get – short cover, short mid-wicket and straightish short mid-on and mid-off. Even at times, the keeper was up against the medium pacers. And Tim Murtagh was bowling as st straight as a bowing machine.
The plan was simple, frustrate the Afghan batsmen to trigger those release shots which can create those wicket-taking moments on this slow pitch. And according to the script, the Irish bowlers were on their mark, given away just 20 runs off 16 overs in the first hour of the day.
But on that crucial juncture, the two overnight unbeaten batsmen Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi batted with maturity. The Afghan No. 3 and 4 were not looking in a hurry of any sort. Especially Shah, with his compact technique and gutsy mindset, was able to counter the situation quite brilliantly. He was playing close to his body and seemed to have control over his drives, which on a slow wicket can be tricky at times.
“Their field setting suggested that they wanted to bowl dots,” Shah said following the end of day’s play. “That was the game. They wanted to bowl dots. Ki yeh tangh ho jaye aur kharab shot khele [They wanted to frustrate me into playing a loose shot.] But I showed patience and stayed at the wicket, and got this score.”
It took 121 balls for Shah to become the first half-centurion for Afghanistan in Test cricket.
Well, even Shah was not aggressive in his approach, that doesn’t mean, he went into a shell. Whenever bowlers gave him the opportunity, he capatilised, but in a civilized way.
“Mann karta hai, kyun nahi karta, bas koi munh mein phenke…” [I also feel like hitting the big shots, why not, but they have to bowl in my mouth.] – a typical Pujara school of batting.
As the day progressed, the ball got older, and the pitch dried and the bowlers tired, the scoring opportunities began to present themselves. The strike rate went up, boundaries started coming.
Shah got into the 90s just before the second new ball was taken. Ireland bowlers were bowling negative lines to deny him going to the landmark against the old ball. And they succeed. He was on 97 when William Porterfield asked for the new ball. And one run later, while trying cut a Tim Murtagh through the vacant third man area, Shah was cramped for room and played on.
For his teammates in the dressing room, who were getting ready to celebrate the first ever century by an Afghanistan batsman, it was some of an anti-climax.
As Shah was coming out of the ground, the entire Afghan camp looked shattered. However, despite those two runs, his innings by that time had given Afghanistan a realistic chance of registering their first-ever Test triumph.