Shahid the Unsung swings it for Pakistan
Pakistan bounced back from a calamitous Champions Trophy with a victory that blossomed with optimism if not complete command. Mohammad Yousuf continued his exquisite run in Test cricket and, flat track or no, he outperformed all the other batsmen in this match including one BC Lara. There is a sense of serenity about Yousuf's batting that inspires confidence and echoes a bygone era. One half of Pakistan's opening batting partnership continued to raise more questions than answers (more on that next time). And Inzamam returned with a duck and a quiet, if occasionally somnolent, authority to help Pakistan regain their footing in international cricket.
But the big question mark hung over Pakistan's bowling attack and Umar Gul and Shahid Nazir answered it as emphatically as possible. Although Gul had the better figures, for my money, it was Shahid the Unsung who swung it for Pakistan.
After a break from Test cricket that must have felt like an eternity, Shahid returned to the Test team at Headingley this year and made an immediate impact. Admittedly his pace is friendly but Shahid more than makes up for that with accuracy and consistency, attributes that have been lacking in Pakistan's support pace bowlers for many years. Far better to follow the bluster and the venom of opening bowlers of the calibre of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif with somebody reliable who can control an innings and pick up wickets in the process, rather than ease the pressure with a wayward spell from, say, Abdul Razzaq. What Shahid has done since Headingley, in a style not dissimilar to Aaqib Javed if not as speedy, is to replicate this remarkable control and consistency at every opportunity.
In many ways Shahid is an ideal third or fourth seamer in Test cricket but he also carries the reputation of possibly being Pakistan's best new-ball bowler. That's a big accolade to try and live up to but on the first morning of this Test Shahid showed exactly why people do talk of him in this manner. While Gul was wayward--although he too returned later to rise to the occasion and confirm his progress as Pakistan's most improved bowler of this year--it was Shahid who made Lara pay for batting first on a treacherous morning. It was that spell that put Pakistan in a dominant position. I'm no lover of medium pace but hats off to Shahid Nazir for his patience and now his determination to prove to Pakistan's selectors that they ignored a real gem for too long.
Pakistan's new opening bowlers can't really make up for the two that have been lost but their form is a ray of sunshine--and a cause for optimism--at a time when Pakistan cricket needs to leave behind the darkness of recent weeks.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here