He takes the strike. Apart from the weight of his batting gear, he is also bearing the weight of responsibility. He has promoted himself up in the order. He wants to take the bull by the horns. He delivers two blows past fielders. The ball reaches the fence with ease. He is calm. He has withered the storm for a good 23 deliveries and is set to deliver more runs.
But then Michael Neser bowls a quicker one directly into his pads. He seems to be falling over while trying to read the pace of the delivery. The umpire raises his finger. He has to walk back. Early blow for his team. He is the first wicket to fall. That is all he can do in the first innings.
Fast forward to the second innings, the hosts were brought to their knees by a right-arm pacer who shares his name with the Premier of Pakistan. He has nothing to be worried about. He has a healthy 306-run lead in his favour. However, the demons of his first innings dismissal are still haunting him.
He stands firm. Fourteen deliveries later, he has only scored a single without even attempting a boundary. Some may say he was too relaxed. Some may call it complacency. But the majority will say he was under pressure to deliver as the captain of the team, and he was not up to the task. Next ball, Neser again gets the best of him. He was once again unable to read the pace of the delivery which was darted into his pads. Bowler appeals, umpire raises his finger and the leader of the pack falls for just a single run.
In the same match, another batsman reaches the century mark after the team lost two quick wickets. He partnered with the left-handed opener, the latter losing his wicket too at the total of 60.
He transforms all the pressure of expectation into grit. He stands tall, delivers the only maximum of the innings, hits 12 boundaries and raises the bat to acknowledge the crowd for his contribution to the total: 119 to be exact out of the total 428.
Come second innings, he is asked to sit out his number four spot for a struggling batsman. Maybe the plan was to give Iftikhar Ahmed enough time out on the pitch, or it may well be to stop the century maker for making his case stronger.
Pakistan’s Test captain Azhar Ali got two chances of inspiring the team by leading from the front, but he failed on both occasions. Asad Shafiq meanwhile scored a century and together with Babar Azam gave Pakistan hope that the two-Test series against Australia may not be a one-sided affair.
However, numbers from just one match cannot be considered reliable data to reach a significant conclusion, right?
Let’s look at their performances in the last three years in the Test format.
Azhar Ali has four 100s and nine 50s to his name in the last three years with 21 Tests to his name. He averages 36.82.
Asad Shafiq, another main stay in Tests, has one 100 and six 50s to his name in the same number of Test, with an average of 32.15.
This proves numbers do lie if taken out of context.
The point being made is that Shafiq, even after batting at the number six position for a long time, has been able to deal with the pressure of higher-order collapses and on many occasions playing with the tail to either chase down or add more substance to totals.
Also, if need be, Shafiq has time and again proven that he is more reliable than Azhar Ali when the push comes to shove. Remember the 137 against Australia at the Gabba, where he nearly snatched victory from the jaws of the Aussies, all the while batting sensibly with the tail?
If all this is not a proof that he is potentially a better choice than Azhar Ali to lead the Men in Green in Australia during the two-Test series, then nothing is.