Asad Shafiq has defended Pakistan's decision to bat first upon winning the toss despite the side being bowled out for 191. Shafiq, who top-scored for the hosts with 63, said he "hadn't ever" seen the ball spin the way it did on the first morning here in Karachi, where the Sri Lanka left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya made hay, snapping up four wickets.
"I wasn't expecting turn on day one here, and like I said, I've never seen that happen in the first two days," Shafiq said. "There was a little bit of moisture, but the Sri Lankans used the conditions really well. The fast bowlers bowled very well after lunch, and the spinner didn't leak any runs. So they kept up the pressure from both ends.
"We lost a few early wickets today and that put us under pressure, but after that [Babar Azam and I] struck up a good partnership. What we needed to do was prolong that partnership because the team only really benefits if these partnerships become big stands. That was our goal, but we must give credit to the Sri Lankan bowlers, especially the spinners. We weren't expecting the ball to turn at all, and all the cricket I've played here, I haven't really seen the ball turn like that on the first two days."
Shafiq should know. Hailing from Karachi, he's played more cricket at this venue than at any other during his career, and while this may be his first Test at his home ground, it was apparent he was in his comfort zone.
Looking the most assured Pakistan batsman on the day, he came to the crease with the side in trouble at 65 for 3, and dug Pakistan out of that situation to the relative comfort of 127 for 3. When Babar Azam, who, despite his half-century, never seemed as commanding a presence on the pitch as Pakistan have become used to seeing, fell to extra turn, Shafiq continued to anchor the innings, keeping the inevitable collapse at bay.
But he found himself marooned with the tail, and while it is a scenario Shafiq should be familiar with - he has batted at No. 6 for much of his career and scored more Test hundreds from that position than anyone else - batting in such a situation doesn't come naturally to him. Shafiq is much happier to keep the limelight at arm's length, and would rather work away quietly at his own game than take charge of a situation; he even said today that he preferred to ask the tail-ender how many balls they were happy facing than trust himself with that decision. Those may not be the most useful attributes when batting with the tail, however, and just as was the case in Brisbane last month, it brought about Shafiq's own downfall.
"I didn't play with the tail too long today, but whenever I do, I look at my partner and ask how comfortable they are," Shafiq said. "If they say they're happy for me to take the single on the first or second ball, then I try and give them more confidence. Others may be uncomfortable against one type of bowler or another - maybe a left-arm seamer or a fast bowler - and in those cases I try and take as much strike as possible.
"It's actually tricky to score like that, because the fielders spread out when the set batsman is on strike. So I try to sneak in a boundary when they come up around the fourth ball and move the scoreboard forward that way."
But as the man who spent more time out on the crease than any other batsman, Shafiq was confident the conditions would continue to offer enough to the bowlers to ensure Sri Lanka won't be allowed to get away on day two.
"We didn't think there'd be so much turn and seam on day one," Shafiq said. "There was a little bit of grass on the pitch; the fast bowlers are still seaming and swinging the ball, and that remained the case right through to the end of the day. Our bowlers are bowling well too, and I think if they continue that tomorrow, we can get them out within the total that we put up."
Shafiq also offered steadfast support to his struggling captain Azhar Ali, whose two-ball duck left him without a half-century in his last 12 Test innings, of which he hasn't reached double figures in eight. Shafiq even deflected some of the criticism onto himself, saying it was the job of the set batsmen to go on and make convert half-centuries into hundreds.
"When Misbah [-ul-Haq] and Younis [Khan] played with us, we saw how they converted those fifties into hundreds. I am not doing that right now, but I'm trying my best," Shafiq said. "As for Azhar, he's the best batsman in the side. He's performed for Pakistan for so long, but he's going through a bad patch. We're all supporting him and are confident he'll manage to get out of it."