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Shadab Khan has got his groove back

Allrounder has been crucial to Pakistan's progress into the Asia Cup final

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Shadab Khan had "complicated things" for himself not long ago. He made this candid revelation after the Super 4 game against India at the Asia Cup. He said he was trying too many things as a bowler. As an art, legspin can be demanding at the best of times. It leaves you with minuscule margins for error. And when you try too many things like Shadab felt he had, results are often likely to be met with inconsistency.
This is something Shadab has consciously worked on since the start of 2022. He touched upon doing the simple things right. Like hitting the same spot over and over again and varying his pace and trajectory without losing sight of that spot. When he was convinced the consistency in hitting that tappa was back, he weaved the variations back in, such as the googly and the flipper.
It was as if he was reconstructing his bowling; one by one piecing back the jigsaw of skills that brought him tremendous success when he broke through as a teenager six years ago.
To Shadab's credit, even through all that, he made sure his batting didn't suffer. It's actually something he takes great pride in, to the point that, two years ago, when he was pulled up by Mickey Arthur for not doing enough, he bet his coach that he'd score three half-centuries in three Tests and he did just that: 55 against Ireland followed by 52 and 56 against England.
Shadab brings great flexibility to Pakistan's T20 line-up, something they have lacked since moving on from Faheem Ashraf. And he likes being the two-in-one guy. Earlier this year, playing for Islamabad United, Shadab picked up 19 wickets in eight innings. This included two four-wicket hauls and a five-for. He also made 268 runs at a strike rate of 162.42. No one in the PSL had made 250 runs and taken 15 wickets. To have done all this while leading Islamabad suggests that responsibility sits well with him.
Over the past two weeks, we've seen Shadab's brilliance at different times at the Asia Cup. In the game against India, he was single-handedly responsible stalling an innings that was in overdrive. His spell of 2 for 31 in four overs was the reason India finished on 181 instead of the 200-plus they were on track to get.
Shadab's variations that night extended far beyond just a simple wrong'un. He produced subtle changes in length, pace and use of the crease. He struck off his very first ball when KL Rahul didn't fully get beneath it. It was a classic Shadab wicket. Tempting the batter into a big shot, only to have him drag one to strategically-placed deep fielders. Later on, with Rishabh Pant trying to play funky shots, he drew a mis-hit that was caught at backward point.
Shadab's contribution didn't end there. Thanks to a deep understanding of match-ups and data, he played a key role in Mohammad Nawaz being pushed up the order to disturb India's two legspinners. Of course, the benefit of hindsight allows us to label it a masterstroke, as Nawaz's 20-ball 42 blindsided India.
Against Afghanistan, he responded to conceding an early six by prising out the dangerous Najibullah Zadran. It was a clever piece of work, sneaking in a seam-up delivery that the batter toe-ended to long-on. Then, on a low-scoring bunsen, in a game wasn't sealed before Naseem Shah's twin-sixes in the final over, Shadab's 36 off 26 at No. 5 proved invaluable, especially after the top order faltered.
The dramatic nature of the finish meant his knock didn't get the credit it deserved. It had been an exhibition of total control until he was dismissed trying to be a tad too adventurous against Rashid Khan. A game earlier, against Hong Kong, his 4 for 8 had been a wholesome display of his bag of tricks.
As a bowler, Shadab doesn't get expansive turn and bounce. He gets his edge from imparting sidespin and playing around with trajectories. With the bat, he's calm and calculative. He plays to his strengths, to his match-ups. All of this is why he's as X-factor as they come. The old verve that made him a teenage sensation is back. The signs are promising, once again.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo