Abdullah Shafique goes old-school to guide Pak to memorable win in Galle

Unadulterated old-school Test batting did the job for Abdullah Shafique and Pakistan, at a time when Bazball has become a fad in long-form cricket. The 22-year-old, resplendent in his tenacity, concentration and ball-consumption, ensured that his team pulled off a 342-run fourth innings chase in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Galle.

Shafique opened the innings, played 408 balls and stayed at the crease for 524 minutes for his match-winning unbeaten 160, going at a strike rate of 39. The fifth-day Galle pitch, albeit sluggish in nature, was offering unpredictability and turn. Bazball barely had a chance.

Shafique, a Test neophyte, was only into his sixth game at this level. He showed maturity beyond his years. Typical of a batsman from the subcontinent, he favoured the legside, with the flick being his most productive shot. ESPNCricinfo stats showed a 90 per cent shot control.

“A star is born (in Pakistan cricket) today,” said Javed Miandad emphatically. “Now expectations will be higher and Shafique will have to live up to them. He has the potential to score double hundreds and triple hundreds, just that this innings shouldn’t make him satisfied. His hunger must burn. That’s the recipe for consistency and success,” the former Pakistan captain added.

Shafique did something similar in March, against Australia in Karachi. His 96 off 305 balls in 465 minutes had laid the foundation for one of Pakistan’s finest rearguard efforts in a draw, against an imposing fourth innings target of 506. In more fashionable lingo, it is called a blockathon. The youngster revelled in his old-school determination.

Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan outshone him in Karachi, scoring 196 and 104 not out respectively. Babar’s magnificent century in the first innings at Galle notwithstanding, this turned out to be Shafique’s game. He was duly adjudged Player of the Match. “I’m quite happy that we chased the target on the last day. The plan was simple, that we have to go for the runs. The pitch was difficult but as you spent more time, it got easier. When the spinners were bowling with the new ball, they were getting help,” Shafique said at the post-match presentation.

Different approaches

After England’s gung-ho approach and four consecutive home Test wins under new red-ball coach Brendon McCullum, Bazball ruled the roost. Even England Test captain Ben Stokes spoke about his team being out to change the way long-form cricket is played. During a media interaction, McCullum was asked if the days of obdurate Test batsmen are over.

“I haven’t really thought too much about that. I just look at the players we have got and I think they fit the bill for what we are trying to achieve and the style we want to play. It’s probably not what we are after. I’m happy with what we have got at the moment anyway,” the England coach had said.

Shafique’s knock provided a definitive answer. Classical Test batting will never die, especially in conditions that test a batsman’s limits.

Luck smiled on Shafique a few times. In the third over on Wednesday, he was hit on the back leg by left-arm spinner Prabath Jayasuriya. Ball-tracking showed that the ball was missing the bails by a coat of varnish. On 128, he survived a clear run-out chance, with Dhananjaya de Silva missing the target from slip. Then, with the game still delicately poised, Shafique danced down the track but mistimed his slog against Dhananjaya, only to be reprieved by Kasun Rajitha at deep mid-wicket. That was the match. From the batsman’s perspective, fortune favoured the brave.

Shafique was spotted by Pakistan’s former head coach and former chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq. So impressed was the latter with the young player’s talent that he spoke about how the opener would be a guaranteed success at the highest level. Shafique, in turn, spoke about giving his “110 per cent” and “following the process” during an interview earlier this year. In six Tests so far, he has scored 720 runs at 80.00, including two hundreds and four half-centuries. The next step for the die-hard Ricky Ponting fan would be to take this performance outside Asia.

And when he is not playing cricket, Shafique is strumming a guitar and crooning ‘Aye Khuda’, as a YouTube video would attest.

Brief scores: Sri Lanka 222 and 337 lost to Pakistan 218 and 344/6 (Abdullah Shafique 160 not out, Babar Azam 55, Mohammad Rizwan 40; Prabath Jayasuriya 4/135) by 4 wickets

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