Azhar Ali, Younus Khan, Misbahul Haq and Sarfraz Ahmed are often credited for the phenomenal resurgence since the Australia series last year, with the quartet having churned out big scores aplenty to provide a refreshing consistency to the much maligned batting department.
Asad Shafiq at number six has made immensely valuable contributions of his own, but his numbers are often overshadowed in the presence of the seasoned Misbah-Younus duo that stride out before him in the order, or the swashbuckler Sarfraz who follows him at number seven.
The diminutive Karachiite is perhaps the unsung hero of this batting order despite returns that are the best ever for a Pakistani at his number— 2,415 runs at an average of 47.35 per innings — and even comparable to the best from any era.
His century tally after 38 of his 40 Tests (at number six) stands at eight — the same as legendary West Indian batsman Gary Sobers who scored 2,614 runs in 42 Tests at the pivotal spot. Meanwhile, former Pakistan captain Asif Iqbal scored six centuries from this number in the batting order.
In the UAE Tests last year, Azhar, Younus, Misbah, Sarfraz and the openers Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez had all posted big hundreds. Shafiq scored 89 in the first Test of the season against Australia, with the century eluding him before the very last innings of the series.
New Zealand were on the cusp of a big win after Pakistan’s top order finally wilted on a largely benign Sharjah surface. With the match almost lost, Shafiq unleashed an audacious attack, racing to 137 off 148 balls and scoring 108 runs through boundaries (18 fours and six sixes).
Shafiq has been a model of consistency since that blazing knock. His last 12 Test innings including the Sharjah century have yielded 792 runs at an average of 66. The tally includes three more centuries against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and England.
The average isn’t inflated by not-outs, with Shafiq being dismissed in each of the 12 innings. More often than not, the right-hander is left to do the bulk of the scoring with tail-enders for company, which results in some soft dismissals.
Only last week — first innings of the Dubai Test — Shafiq was set for his ninth Test ton when an ugly across-the-line swish extinguished his hopes on 89, the shot was inevitable with last man Imran Khan — zero Test runs in seven matches — at the other end for company.
‘England tour vital for my career’
Before departing for the UAE, Shafiq had set his eyes on scoring big against England. In a TV interview, the 29-year-old had spoken about cashing in on his starts. At the end of the Dubai Test, Shafiq heads the Pakistan list of run-getters with 275 runs in four innings.
Pakistan’s next expected Test assignment is a four-match tour of England next June. Shafiq, who made his ODI debut during Pakistan’s last full tour of the UK in 2010, knows the importance of scoring big at the home of cricket.
“The English tour is always demanding on an Asian batsman,” he said. “At the same time, success there is instantly noticed and recognised around the world. I am eager to perform in conditions that are tough for batsmen.”
English commentators Michael Atherton, Ian Botham and David Lloyd are full of praise for Shafiq’s tenacity, temperament and technique. The trio feel that Shafiq is going to be the stand-out Pakistan batsman in the Tests at Lord’s, Old Trafford, Edgbaston and Oval.
Shafiq must be itching to prove them right.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2015.