March 31, 2014

The promise of Shehzad

He displays a hunger for runs that bodes well for his and Pakistan's future

Ahmed Shehzad: good things come to those who wait © Getty Images

He cuts. He pulls. He drives. He nudges. He thrashes. And he keeps going. He even gifts his innings to the nation. Pakistan have what they have yearned for over a decade, an opener worthy of representing them in international cricket. The arrival of Ahmed Shehzad, long awaited and much enjoyed, is changing the dynamic of Pakistan cricket. If you're wondering why the never-ending winter of top-order failure and unpredictability has given way to an uplifting spring, thank the diminutive frame and abundant spunk of the amazing Mr Shehzad.

Now it's never sensible to exaggerate the exploits of any young player but Shehzad has passed two important tests of his credentials. One of my earliest memories of him is seeing him make something of a fool of himself on the winners' podium at the final of the World T20 in 2009.

Pakistan won in style. Shehzad tried to play the cool cat as he collected his medal. There was a cockiness about him that didn't fit with a player who hadn't yet achieved any personal success in international cricket. The boy had talent but it was no surprise, except to himself, when he was soon out of the team.

The first test was passed last year when Shehzad fought his way back to international cricket. He seemed a chastened fellow, willing to keep his head down and work to keep his place. Perhaps appearances were a little deceptive. The cockiness was still there but it had mellowed, and was channelled into productive displays.

And these performances have not been sporadic. Shehzad has been consistent. He has also dominated, taking responsibility to lead an innings from the top of the order. He is willing to turn a useful contribution into an influential one. And he has done this across formats, against all opponents, at an impressive strike rate. The second coming of Shehzad has been consistent with a player of world-class potential.

The step from potential to realisation is a giant one, and Shehzad has barely maintained these high standards for a year. Record books, particularly Pakistani ones, are replete with careers of great promise but little impact. Players can settle for a performance that is good enough rather than striving for excellence, especially in the modern era with its multiple formats and high rewards. But there was a hint of something more in Shehzad's century against Bangladesh, the first by a Pakistani batsman in a T20 international. He played some dazzling shots to place his team in command. When the hundred approached, he slowed down. He played a safer, more measured game to reach his landmark.

Here was a clue to the hunger for runs that has driven Shehzad's return to international cricket. Top batsmen are like the best strikers in football. A dash of selfishness is invariably a characteristic of a prolific scorer, who feeds off the confidence that each goal and every century brings. As much as Shehzad destroyed Bangladesh with his surgical strokes in Mirpur, it was that self-indulgent period before his hundred that hints at a greater career to come.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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