In a sweltering Lahore, watching the coverage of Pakistan’s ICC Champions Trophy dead rubber against India in 2013 was a chagrin experience. But the presence of two discarded Pakistan players, Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad, at Shahid Afridi’s Splice restaurant at Gulberg livened up the atmosphere.
Amid the extremely infuriating procession of one Pakistan batsman following another to Edgbaston’s dressing room, Shehzad remarked, “If I get a chance now, I won’t let it go, trust me I have matured both as a person and as a cricketer and you will see the difference.”
A glut of selfies (including some bordering on the obnoxious) continue to raise doubts about Shehzad’s maturity as a person, but no one can deny his maturity at the batting crease — simply put, Shehzad is the new Pakistan batting star.
As luck would have it, Shehzad, along with Umar and Afridi, returned to the Pakistan squad immediately after the Champions Trophy debacle in England.
Shehzad curbed his flamboyance during the West Indies tour in the summer of 2013 but struggled in the first four games before finishing the ODI series with a match-winning 64-run contribution.
But unlike the 2011 tour of West Indies where the opener struck a century, Shehzad was not unjustly dropped from the team and soon the ‘matured’ wonder kid started rewarding the trust of the national selectors.
Three consecutive fifties including two against the strong South Africans consolidated Shehzad’s stay at the top of the innings in the ODI format, and after a wait of 14 matches, the big one arrived.
Pakistan shot back in true Pakistan way to gun down the Proteas 2-1 in a three-match ODI series after South Africa had pummelled them 4-1 in their own environs of the Emirates.
At Port Elizabeth, Shehzad dazzled with a magnificent 112-ball 102 against the raging South African bull Dale Steyn and Co. Steyn claimed six wickets and troubled every batsman in the Pakistan line-up but Shehzad never took a backward step in his battle with the number one fast-bowler in the world.
Just a mere two games later, Shehzad churned out another ton. This time the Sri Lankans bore the brunt of his batting talent at the Dubai Sports Stadium.
The year 2014 was nothing short of a baptism of fire for the mercurial Pakistan team, especially in the ODI format. But Shehzad helped himself to another productive year by accumulating 829 runs in 16 games.
The tally included two match-winning hundreds against Bangladesh and New Zealand. Shehzad was justly awarded the Test cap for the three-match series against Sri Lanka in the 2013-14 season and only in his third game in the longest most arduous format, the opener posted his maiden hundred.
The World T20 in Bangladesh was a major disappointment for Pakistan but Shehzad had more success coming his way as he posted his first hundred in the shortest format for his country —he remains the only Pakistan player to have scored a hundred in all three formats.
His love affair for the batting wickets in the UAE continued during the successful Test campaign against Australia and New Zealand later last year. Shehzad caned the Australians in Dubai before scoring a big hundred against the Black Caps in Abu Dhabi.
Scoring centuries at the highest level has been one taxing time for Pakistan batsmen recently but Shehzad surely hasn’t read that script. Since his return to top-flight cricket, Shehzad has scored four ODI centuries, three Test and one T20 century — the matured Shehzad is now a force to reckon with.
Historically, Pakistan openers have done fairly well at the World Cup. Saeed Anwar, Ramiz Raja and Aamir Sohail lead the pack with eight centuries between them.
Shehzad can certainly join these stalwarts with at least six group games at his disposal. At present, a century against India is the missing link on Shehzad’s CV, Adelaide’s flat track offers him a golden opportunity.
The pundits don’t have Shehzad on their list of batsmen to watch out for at the World Cup; however, in a month’s time they might be found regretting.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2015.
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