For the eighth time in his five-Test career, Shadab Khan walked out to bat at number seven on Thursday on day two of the first Test in Manchester against England. Apart from batting in a familiar batting position, the leg-spinning all-rounder strode out in a vastly recognizable situation too.
Two years ago against Ireland and England, Shadab Khan scored his first two-half centuries at number seven. The innings in Dublin was a genuine rescue act while the one at Lord’s strengthened Pakistan’s position, both of which resulted in victories.
At Leeds against England after the Lord’s triumph, the right-handed batsman scored another fifty in the first innings and picked a wicket for good measure too. Despite best efforts, the visitors could not win and an unbeaten 47 in Johannesburg in the second innings in 2019 saved face, but could not prevent a South African victory.
Perhaps, Shadab Khan’s selection was a debatable one but was not worth criticism by any stretch of the imagination. Keeping in mind the potential dry conditions in Manchester, Shadab Khan was a logical choice.
And if the selectors preferred him to support Yasir Shah when the need arises, Shadab Khan instead did his side a favour with the bat, to begin with. When he strode out at the crease, the visitors were five down and the four-pronged pace attack threatened to convert a shaft into a massive advantage. Pakistan were still 21 away from 200 and a world adrift from 300 as Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer smelt blood.
Even though Shan Masood hardly looked anywhere like giving up the fight, the question was whether Shadab was the support he needed to keep Pakistan’s collapse at bay. After lunch, as Joe Root awaited the new ball, he bowled himself and Dom Bess to somehow keep Pakistan from getting in the groove. But Khan seized the opportunity and connected the sweep shot to good effect twice in the two subsequent overs after lunch for boundaries.
With Masood still 23 away from a century, he let Shadab assume control as he kept knocking the singles. During those five overs, Pakistan motored along at four runs per over, going past 200, signalling their positive approach. The positive intent was nowhere to go as the two batsmen blunted the new-ball advantage confidently. Shadab’s third boundary came in his 47th delivery off Anderson’s wide and loose delivery that he disdainfully dispatched past point.
While at the crease Shadab made quite a lot of questionable running calls too, those that would have squandered Pakistan’s progress and Masood’s opportunity of a well-deserved hundred.
As risky as it were, it slowly began to fluster and frustrate the English fielders due to the misfields on account of pressure as Pakistan batsmen raced along between the wickets. There was a slice of fortune too transpired in the over next to when Masood reached his fourth Test century. Broad’s short-pitched delivery could only take a top-edge off Shadab’s bat that fortunately dropped inches before Archer, running in from fine leg.
In the subsequent overs as Masood began slightly raising the tempo, their partnership was nearing hundred. It reached 101 with a sublime cover drive off the centurion as Shadab’s desire to keep motoring along rapidly resulted in his downfall in the next over, ending the stand at 102. He fell five short of his third fifty in England in as many Tests in the country.
But the 76-ball knock was as significant and priceless as Masood’s steadfast hundred if not more. It was a counterattack but not reckless by any means. It was every bit as electric and enterprising as Babar Azam’s 69. The 21-year old’s innings perhaps set the template, encouraging the tourists not to take a step backwards and that a cautious attack is a way forward against this high-octane pace attack.
Shadab Khan’s birth as a genuine batsman:
It is safe to say that Shadab Khan’s rise as a reliable batsman took shape in this year’s Pakistan Super League. The leg-spinning all-rounder has 438 runs in all PSL matches so far but out of those 263 have arrived this year for Islamabad United, striking at 159.39. It put him ahead of the likes of mighty strikers like Kamran Akmal, Shane Watson, Luke Ronchi, Colin Munro, Fakhar Zaman, and several others and three places behind Babar Azam.
In pursuit of 183 against Lahore Qalanders in the 7th match, Islamabad lost Ronchi and Munro, teetering at 5-2. Instead of sending reputed strikers like that of Colin Ingram and Asif Ali, they sent Shadab Khan at number four, who had a strike rate of 109 and averaged just over nine. He also served as the captain of the side, who claimed figures of 4-0-14-2 in the match.
Khan departed at the eleventh over after hammering 52 off 29 balls that contained three fours and four sixes. He catapulted them to a run rate of over nine during his stay that eventually helped Islamabad scrape home by a wicket.
It was against a bowling attack comprising of Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Hafeez, Usman Shinwari on wickets that assisted bowlers. Subsequently, he batted twice more within top five, clubbing powerful knocks against Quetta Gladiators and Karachi Kings.
There was supposedly a caveat against preferring Fawad Alam over Shadab Khan that the latter opened the eye to. Picking Fawad Alam, who is a batsman known to take time to get going might have pushed Pakistan into a defensive mindset. For all the exploits Alam has accumulated in the domestic circuit, one should not forget that the last bowlers he faced at the international level were the elite class of Shane Bond, Chris Martin, and Daniel Vettori in Dunedin.
Hence, facing Anderson, Broad, Archer, and Woakes from the outset in their backyard might have resulted in the veteran’s undoing. But there is still every chance that Pakistan will need his services in the next two Tests in Southampton. But for now, in the ongoing Test, Shadab Khan did what was required of him.
Masood’s 156 is every bit worth swooning over that mounted Pakistan to 326 as does going gaga over the swing bowling of Mohammad Abbas and Shaheen Shah Afridi. But Shadab’s contribution was all the more crucial in the scheme of things and set a blueprint for Pakistan how they are to approach to record their first series win in England since 1996.