Asad Shafiq entered the Pakistan team on the tail end of the Pakistan cricket fraternity going into a frenzy regarding the potential of Umer Akmal. Critics and fans always expected big from Umer. But consistently, he failed to recreate the magic like his debut year and till now remained as a puzzle which Pakistan cricket could not decipher.
Amid the buzz and aura of Umer, Shafiq worked harder and gradually emerged as one of the most important members of the team. Neither did he hog the limelight nor did he attract the critics and media for support. He worked silently and remained steady despite failures. And now his sincerity and patience are reaping a rich harvest.
Pakistan in tatters
Mohammad Amir’s bowling was incandescent in the first innings. He found movement with the new ball and pitched on the right line and length. His comeback spell after suffering an injury while fielding in the outfield on Day 1, was even livelier.
The ball bounced from a length, beat the bat with movement and kept Steve Smith and his partner quiet. Sadly, Amir lacked the support from the other end as Australia posted a challenging total in the first innings.
Pakistan’s response to Australia’s first innings was bizarre and comical. From 43 for 1, Pakistan collapsed to 67 for 8. The pink ball moved, but the idea of playing away from the body and executing shots with hard hands didn’t bring anything good. The Pakistani top and middle-order failed to get behind the line of the ball more and thus; disaster was evident.
A lower-order resistance from Sarfraz Ahmed and Amir helped Pakistan to escape the absolute shamble of getting bundled out below hundred.
But at that point of time, Pakistan’s hopes of coming back into this Test match were dented and when Australia gave Pakistan the target of 490 to chase, the possibility of another disgraceful display was on the cards.
One of the most significant facets of Pakistan cricket is, when you think, they will get mauled, they tend to surprise you by putting up an eye-popping performance.
The cricket culture of Pakistan is built upon its unpredictable nature, and it reflects on their players as well. At times they are comical, at times they are fighters of high pedigree.
Pakistan fight back
When Amir came out to bat, Pakistan were 220 for 6. Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Sarfraz Ahmed departed and the end of Pakistan’s second innings was just a mere formality.
Amir’s partner Asad Shafiq’s form had been wretched since the England tour - 58 runs from his previous seven innings including three ducks. None would have invested their faith in Shafiq to pull the match out of the fire and give Australia a fitting reply.
All of a sudden, the scenario of the Test match started to change as Pakistan decided to change its colour in a hopeless situation.
Shafiq stitched two of the most significant partnerships with Amir and Wahab Riaz for the seventh and eighth wicket which transformed the Test from a one-way-traffic to an evenly balanced one.
After surviving some nervous moments at the start and being dropped twice in 58 and 72 – he rode his luck to score a hundred and with that, he broke the 42-year old record held by the legendary Sir Garfield Sobers.
The Pakistani batsman went past Sobers’ tally of eight Test centuries from the number six position and registered his name in the history books.
Shafiq’s gallant effort helped Pakistan to end the fourth day at 382 for 8, and he continued his fight on the final day as well, but a delivery from Mitchell Starc ended his epic vigil and shattered Pakistan’s dreams of a memorable win.
Australia have taken a 1-0 lead, but Pakistan won the hearts of everyone. Especially, Asad Shafiq’s fantastic knock earned accolades from the greats of the game.
A new name on the rise?
Shafiq hails from Karachi, a place which is chaotic by nature and over the years, have produced some of cricket’s grittiest characters – Hanif Mohammad, Mushtaq Mohammad, Javed Miandad and Mohammad Yousuf’s fighting exhibitions are well known among the followers of the game.
Such role models have enlightened the next generation to strengthen character more than technique which proves worthy enough at times to survive in the topsy-turvy world of international cricket.
Hanif’s defence defied the ferocity of the Wes Halls, Roy Gilchrists and John Snows. Mushtaq’s aggression melted the Andy Roberts, Dennis Lillees and Jeff Thompsons. And Javed’s ultra-aggression, super-confidence gave Pakistan the extra edge against the very best during the 80s while Yousuf’s artistically poetic aggression always gave Pakistan hope and sheer joy.
Cricketers from Karachi are pretty noisy and being aggressive is something of a matter of pride for them. Hanif was different, but the others did things by making weather pretty dramatic and chaotic both on and off the field.
Shafiq has the grit and fighting qualities of a Karachi street fighter, but he loves to do things quietly rather than being too aggressive like his predecessors. Again, he lacks the rush-of-adrenaline of a typical batsman from Karachi is devoid of velvet in his wrists like his role model Yousuf.
He can drive the ball and cut it at will, but when it comes to eye-catching batsmanship, Shafiq is not one of those willow-wielders for which one would spend his money to watch.
I am not sure why Mickey Arthur tagged him as Sachin Tendulkar, but in my opinion, he is more like a modern day Steve Waugh.
Like Waugh, Shafiq is blooming late, and his development is evident through deeds rather than creating hype. Shafiq is not a God gifted talent like Tendulkar, but more of a symbol of grit who, like Waugh, has the nag to achieve things through sheer hard work and will power.
From a technical point of view, Shafiq is better than his colleagues. Especially, against quality fast bowlers, time and again, he has proved his worth. Be it at Newlands or Lord’s or Brisbane, Shafiq has shown the habit of using the feet rightly and playing the ball late by getting behind the line and executing strokes with soft hands.
He accumulates runs by finding the gaps smartly, and his batting philosophy is built more on manoeuvring the strike rather than boundary-based stroke-play. One might get annoyed by his quiet nature at the crease as the modern day fans want to witness adventurous batting, but his occupying the crease and un-romantic-nature of fetching runs help to arrest collapses and build critical partnerships.
At number six, Shafiq is the stabiliser.
Temperamentally, in my opinion, Shafiq has been already a revolution in the Pakistani batting order. His brave nature to counterattack silently is giving Pakistan cricket hope as at any moment, Pakistan cricket would be moving on without their two most obedient servants, Younis and Misbah, and to fill the vacuum, Shafiq is there.
But to achieve greatness, Shafiq must learn to be more consistent, and I think, he can be a consistent run-getter as because, he is patient, passionate and hardworking by nature.