Shehzad ticks off Pakistan's missing landmark
Pakistan have played the most number of T20s and won the most number of T20s. They have been the most consistent side in the World T20, winning the title in 2009, making it to the final in 2007, and reaching the semi-finals in 2010 and 2012. It is a disservice to what Pakistan have achieved in Tests and one-dayers when it is said that their style of play is naturally suited to T20s. However, that their flair is often expressed more freely, and causes more impact, in the shortest format cannot be denied.
Given this, it was a bit incongruous that all the top eight Test nations had T20 centurions before this afternoon, barring Pakistan. Even England, limited-over cricket's bridesmaids or under-achievers for so long barring 2010, had joined the list with Alex Hales' effort against Sri Lanka three days ago in Chittagong. Ahmed Shehzad has corrected that anomaly with his unbeaten 111 against Bangladesh.
Shehzad could have put Pakistan on the list in August last year. He was on 97 against Zimbabwe and facing the last ball of the innings. He had a go, but could not place it wide enough of deep midwicket, and had to settle for a single. It was already the highest score by a Pakistan batsman in T20s.
In a way, it was probably fitting that the landmark did not come in a two-game bilateral series and was achieved in a world event with plenty riding on the outcome of the match. Pakistan needed to beat Bangladesh for their final group game against West Indies to remain a virtual quarter-final.
Your Nos. 2, 3 and 4 making 9, 8 and 0 after you have chosen to bat is not the way you want to begin a must-win game. Your No. 5 then comes in and struggles to time the ball. Normally, all this would have spelled trouble for the batting side, but Shehzad was in such supreme flow that these happenings at the other end barely registered, or mattered.
Shehzad's touch was evident from the manner in which he stepped out and timed Mashrafe Mortaza comfortably over the straight boundary as early as the third over, in which he had already taken three successive fours off the bowler. Shehzad was to take 87 off 39 deliveries against the Bangladesh seamers. He had seen Kamran Akmal fall in the second over of spin, to a ball that gripped, spun and bounced enough for him to top-edge a sweep.
Shehzad said the plan had been to target the seamers, as Pakistan knew it would be relatively harder against spin on a slow pitch. "In Bangladesh, the ball does spin and grip," Shehzad said. "The idea was to score as much as possible against the fast bowlers so that we don't have to try anything extra against the spinners, take as little risk as possible against them. It was expected that in a 3.30pm [start], the ball will grip."
With plans sorted and execution happening so smoothly, it had to be a question of not giving it away. The first three Pakistan batsmen did. Shehzad threatened to, when a top-edged pull off Shakib Al Hasan fell in the vacant midwicket beating several advancing fielders, but by that time he was already in the eighties.
At 71 for 3 in the tenth over, a total of 190 seemed unlikely but Shehzad was able to forge a partnership of 83 with Shoaib Malik, who may have made only 26 but had a major role in helping his junior partner reach his century, Shehzad said. "Unfortunately we lost three early wickets but when Shoaib bhai came in, we had a very good partnership. He had a big role to play in my hundred because he ran brilliantly between the wickets. When you run well, then you don't have to take many risks. He also gets a lot of credit for my hundred."
Probably the only thing that did not fit in an otherwise remarkable display of strokeplay was Shehzad's attempted paddle-sweeps, which he missed on every attempt. Shehzad said there was a thought behind those endeavours, even though they did not come off. "It is to disturb the bowler, you can't be predictable in this format because the bowlers have become very sharp, they work hard and come up with plans. The paddle I didn't connect but fine leg went out and covers came up. So I hit two fours over cover. That is the thing, to manoeuvre the field, get into the minds of the captain and the bowlers. This is what T20 cricket is about."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo