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Can Asad Shafiq build on his success?

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Asad_Shafiq_Pakistan_cricketIt took a while for the commentators on air to recognize that Pakistan had more than just an outside chance of chasing down a seemingly impossible 490. Even the average Brisbane local didn’t have much faith in Yasir Shah and professional number 11, Rahat Ali.

But there was someone else at the other end. They did not think much of him either. Apparently he’d played 50 Test matches and averaged above 40. Isn’t it strange how someone like that could slip below the radar? Wait! Who was he, again?

“Welcome back to the Dating Game! If you thought bachelor number one and two were charming, you have yet to feast your eyes on our third and final bachelor. He’s not tall and powerfully built, he’s not the first name on the team sheet, he does not have an IPL contract, and, just to sweeten the deal, he’s spent his entire career in the shadow of bigger names. Ladies and gentleman, without further ado, here is the one but probably not the only, Asad Shafiq.”

41 runs to win. Starc to Shafiq from around the wicket. A bouncer, a snorter, and it’s quick. Shafiq only manages to lob it up in the air as if he’s offering catching practice to a group of Under-13 cricketers. Warner gobbles it up.

A standing ovation. No time to react. Rahat Ali is at the crease and off strike before you know it. 40 runs to win. It’s all down to Yasir. The rejuvenated Starc sends down a yorker. It’s dug out to the slip cordon and BAM! It’s over. No fairytale. The Australians are screaming in excitement as Steve Smith, party pooper, is mobbed by teammates, who could not be more relieved.

How could you, Yasir? That was so amateur! And why did Smith, who had previously dropped two chances, have to take the run out chance? It feels like high school, where misfortune rarely seems to affect the cool kids, as the rest of us are too nervous to approach our first crush. Asad Shafiq is not much of a cool kid. If this was the dating game, lady luck was simply not interested in him.

 

There was, however, no denying that Shafiq had entertained us all, not least with his impressive range of strokes. His back-foot game had shades of Tendulkar as he regularly pierced the gap behind backward point and even rode the bounce to go over the infield. If that was not enough, he totally nullified Nathan Lyon and steered edges down to the third-man boundary using the soft hands you would expect from an accomplished Test batsman.

Despite the aesthetic appeal of what was probably the best performance of his career, and regardless of what could have been, it is important to explore what this innings means for the rest of the series and for Shafiq’s future in Pakistan’s Test unit.

As far as the series is concerned, Shafiq’s resilience should renew some hope for Boxing Day at the MCG. Considering how a four-man Australian attack had to toil for 145 overs in the fourth innings in Brisbane, Pakistan could capitalize on tired bowlers to their advantage. On the other hand, Smith’s men will put Shafiq under the microscope and will test him with bouncers, much like the one that ended his heroic resistance. With a tail that may not always wag as bravely as it did in Brisbane, and with questions looming over Misbah and Younis, an in-form Shafiq is all the more important to guarantee that Australia don’t race ahead of the competition.

In fact, Asad Shafiq should really bat higher up the order. Making this change in the middle of the series may not be the easiest decision but with Misbah considering retirement, Shafiq could be given a permanent position at Number 5.

Coming into Boxing Day at the MCG, Asad Shafiq’s numbers outside of Asia were 866 runs in 30 completed innings at an average of 28.87. He’s going to have to do better if Pakistan is hoping to challenge teams outside of the UAE. Recent signs, however, have been promising. In the deciding Test of the England tour, before Yonis Khan’s double century, it was Shafiq who laid the platform with a crucial 109 from 179. Pakistan won by ten wickets, drawing the series 2-2 as they rose, albeit briefly, to number one in the Test rankings.

Whether or not we remember Shafiq’s 137 will come down to how he follows it up. Another century will dismiss notions that Brisbane was a one-off. Another string of failures (apart from his Boxing Day half century), on the other hand - such as scoring 58 runs in 6 innings prior to his century – could make it very hard for Pakistan to compete with the hosts.

For a man who has scored more hundreds at number six than Sir Garfield Sobers, it will be interesting to see if he can build on his success. Can Asad Shafiq go from being the answer to a popular trivia question to being Pakistan’s latest batting stalwart?

 

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Jay Dansinghani is a freelance writer, researcher, and author based in Hong Kong. Jay got into deep...

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