Welcome back to the Gabbatoir, Asad Shafiq

Asad Shafiq finding form in Australia Getty Images

Perhaps he could have ducked out of the way. Maybe, with a fresher mind and quicker footwork, he could have got on top of it and fended it into the leg side; there was no short leg after all. Or possibly, that delivery from Mitchell Starc to Asad Shafiq was so ruddy unplayable that every possible universe had him edging it into the air, with a gleeful David Warner positioned directly underneath it.

That was Brisbane 2016. Australia like to call the ground the Gabbatoir, as they well might; the home side has not lost a Test match here in 31 years, a streak that stretches to 30 games. But for a while at the end of the fourth day and that fateful fifth morning, Shafiq had Australian necks on the line. Coming in at number six and batting with the lower order, each tail-ender improbably giving him better company than the previous, Shafiq inched towards his hundred, and then surged well beyond it. Pakistan sneaked up on 400 - just 90 short of their target, and what would have been the biggest-ever fourth-innings Test chase - and then surged well beyond it.

They were 41 runs away when Starc produced that magical ball to end the most extraordinary resistance. Four balls later, the game was won. The Gabbatoir was intact.

It is tempting to wander down an alternate history where Shafiq took Pakistan over the line, just to see what would have happened to his personal career. This intensely private man would have likely seen his face staring back at him from billboards and cheesy television ads across the country, opportunistic politicians garlanding him with awards and cash prizes. It is possible he would have been appointed Pakistan captain at some point. It is possible he would have been called back into the limited-overs side for no reason whatsoever. But what would it have done for, and to, Shafiq the cricketer? In all probability, absolutely nothing.

It feels odd to even be discussing Shafiq. He is one of the first names on the team sheet - and yet arguably the least talked about among all of them. Naseem Shah has probably received more attention this past fortnight than Shafiq has in his entire career, the buzz around Brisbane 2016 excepted.

He has played 64 consecutive Tests and counting - well over any sustained run any Pakistani player has ever made, and yet decent money can be wagered over the idea that more people in Pakistan recognise Shaheen Afridi by face than do Shafiq. In a single-sport country where the media obsessively scrutinises what every player does on the field or off it, the mention of Shafiq's name provokes only half-hearted chatter before everyone moves on. For most of his career, he was shunted down to No. 6 like an afterthought. He only earned a promotion from No. 6 after that innings in Brisbane, by which time he had broken Sir Garry Sobers' record of scoring the most hundreds from that position.

There's every possibility the lack of attention has been beneficial to Shafiq's career. When players are built up excitedly in Pakistan, they get torn down with even more frenzy, and in a country where what the press says has always had a not insignificant effect on selection decisions, it is better to fly under the radar, a technique Shafiq has perfected in the eight unbroken years he has been with the Test side.

But while the unassuming, private nature of the man could be spoken of as virtues, there's also the fairly irrefutable point that he isn't talked about because he hasn't done much worth speaking of. Shafiq's technique is stronger than most Pakistan batsmen's, though his footwork while facing the moving ball still never feels quite certain. He has the tendency to take a half step either back or forward, without ever really committing to either footwork or shot. But there's more to it than that, a sense of something elemental missing, something the best batsmen have. He should be in that category, but he has never taken that step up.

If anything, his career since Brisbane has gone in the other direction. After that innings, his Test average stood a shade under 42. In 18 Tests since, he averages 32.09.

Brisbane was been the perfect time for Shafiq to push his average closer to 50, with the promotion up the order imminent, and the retirements of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq only a few months away. It was when we were supposed to see him realise the potential that had been in gestation for six years. It hasn't happened, and it makes you wonder if winning that Test, or being made captain, would have made any difference after all.

There are mitigating circumstances still. Shafiq is a Test specialist in a side that plays that format far too infrequently for any player to be able to build up any sort of momentum or rhythm. The gulf in quality between Pakistan's first-class competition and Test cricket is vast, and he has to make that step up before every series he plays. It is perhaps what has driven Yasir Shah's recent inconsistency too. Pakistan last played a Test in January this year, away in South Africa. Shafiq scored 186 runs in that series at 31.00, with no centuries and two fifties. In a series dominated by seam bowling, they were decent numbers, good enough to ensure there was no pressure on his place, and yet nothing really remarkable. Just standard, Asad Shafiq numbers.

And as Brisbane beckons to him once more, he strides into another series against Australia doing what he does best: looking good, and showing promise. It feels depressing to talk of a 33-year old in language reserved for someone of Naseem Shah's age, but that is what you get with Shafiq. He comes in on the back of two exquisite centuries in warm-up games against Australia A and a CA XI in Perth, and, alongside Babar Azam, he is arguably Pakistan's best hope of ensuring this isn't going to be yet another Australian tour of misery, recriminations and inevitable, hopeless defeat.

The introvert who shone on the most extrovert stage in world cricket, Asad Shafiq's story threatens to take flight once more. The appetiser in Perth, as ever, has been salivating; you just have to hope that, at the Gabbatoir, there's enough meat in the main course too.