Before the start of this tournament, Shadab Khan was asked to rate Pakistan's reliance on data analytics in T20 on a scale of 1 to 10. He answered with words, not numbers, but if ever words represented a solid five, this was it. Difficult to say. Franchises are different. International cricket is different. Hmmm. Haww. Not reliant on it. Not disregarding it.
Shadab is a poster boy of the Islamabad United data dynasty. He gets it. He applies it. He believes in it. He is also the vice-captain of a Pakistan team where the captain is not a great believer in match-ups, where a religious philosopher doubles as a coach and a mentor who is a man of words that don't always make sense. At the last T20 World Cup, almost the same Pakistan side were mostly ignoring - politely - data-based tactical advice they were getting from analysts, and they reached the semi-finals unbeaten. Shadab gets this too. He believes in this too.
But this happy accommodation - Shadab of the Pakistan ethos, Pakistan of Shadab - captures something intrinsic about this latest Pakistan ride, of which Shadab has been the absolute beating heart. A ride fuelled by a little bit of data, a little bit of dua'a (prayer) and a whole lot of Pakistan.
History repeats itself, the saying should go, first as Pakistan cricket, then as a meme. The 1992 parallels have long gone viral, but there's a more compelling one from an individual performance from Pakistan's second world title. Trent Bridge, 2009 and you know where this is headed: the coronation of Shahid Afridi, 13 years into his career. A fifty first, the blown kiss for Jacques Kallis and then the iconic castling of Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers in four balls to set up Pakistan for the final.
In Sydney, a little over a week ago, against South Africa, in another must-win game, Shadab dismissed Temba Bavuma and Aiden Markram in the space of three balls to unhinge the chase. Earlier he had rescued Pakistan with a 22-ball 52, like Afridi in 2009, his first fifty in an ICC event. No kisses were blown.
Memory says the Shadab ball to dismiss Markram might have resembled Afridi's to de Villiers but Youtube proves otherwise. Afridi was getting so much drift in those days, each ball was like a fully formed character out of a Kerouac novel. But the Markram delivery was almost identical to Shadab's own dismissal of Markram from the only other time he's bowled to him, in a World Cup game three years ago. A flipper maybe, or a toppie, a goodie definitely: across nine balls, it's bowled Markram twice.
This isn't a coronation, not yet anyway, more an arrival. Shadab's been a gun for a while, but he's now stamped his presence all over a global event. He's a genuine shot for player of the tournament though if it's just a fan vote, only one guy is winning that (You don't even have to scroll down. He's right there).
Shadab still considers himself a legspinner first, though his batting has come on so sharply in recent years soon it might not be so easy to agree. But it's perhaps the highest compliment to his bowling in this tournament that it has made the central issue of his batting - to be higher up the order more often - redundant.
He's offered Pakistan essential control in those middle overs, foremost with 10 wickets - the most by any bowler in that phase at the tournament (to have bowled at least 30 balls). That's one wicket less than Rashid Khan, Adil Rashid and Adam Zampa combined. Among spinners, his economy rate of 6.59 is the fifth best, and he's basically as good as the most economical spinners because only 0.22 per over separates him from top spot.
That fifty against South Africa was no fluke though. Since 2020, he's one of just three players in all T20s to have scored over 1000 runs and taken 100 wickets (Samit Patel and Jason Holder are the other two). Dig a bit more into that period* and he's the only player alongside Mohammad Nabi to have at least 10 scores of 30+ at a strike rate above 150 as well as at least 10 innings where he's bowled his full quota of four overs and conceded less than six per over. Most teams would love to have a player tick one of those boxes: Shadab ticks both. No surprise either that ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats has him as the fifth-most impactful T20 player in the world since 2020.
So he might call himself a legspinner, but he's as all-round as they come, not least when his fielding is factored in. He's the best fielder in the best fielding side Pakistan has ever put out at a global event. The run-out of Devon Conway in the semi-final was an electric and pivotal moment, but in the canon of Shadab run-outs, hardly spectacular. All three stumps, nice and easy bounce for the pick-up - if he'd missed it, it would've been surprising.
In his first season as captain, Shadab's Islamabad were chasing 183 against Lahore Qalandars at Gaddafi Stadium. They were 5-2 at the end of the second, both openers gone. Until that point Shadab had mostly batted lower down, usually at seven.
The story goes that he reasoned to coach Misbah-ul-Haq that he should go in at four. The chase was a tall one and going in himself was a way of maximising resources. He would go hard from ball one and if he failed, it would hardly be a dent on batting resources with Colin Ingram, Asif Ali and Hussain Talat to come.
As it turns out, his 29-ball 52 helped Islamabad win a raucous game, but more than the potential of his batting, the story reflects his grasp of the format's demands. The phrase low-value wicket wasn't as in vogue then, but that is exactly what he was.
That game awareness, built off some homespun instinct and enabled by the environment at Islamabad, is something that few in the Pakistan side can match. That is what filters through to the national side. It's been said, for instance, that it was his input that led to the recent tactical flexibility in Pakistan's batting order. There's a suggestion Shadab had a fingerprint on the early introduction of Mohammad Nawaz against Glenn Phillips in the semi-final. High pace is usually a good way to go against Phillips but Shadab was aware that Phillips' can struggle early against left-arm spin. Nawaz took his wicket sixth ball, bowled one more economical over and was done.
None of this is to exaggerate Shadab's role, merely to highlight that Pakistan have come upon, in him and Babar Azam, a valuable complementariness in on-field leadership. Babar's a more orthodox captain, albeit with sound instincts. Shadab's approach bounces nicely off this and they get on far too well for it to be any more complicated than that.
Not that the last bit matters at this moment. The last Pakistan captain and vice-captain to feature in a world final at the MCG had, you might recall, an infamously complicated relationship. You might also recall where that got them that day.
*Data from T20Is between Full-member teams and major leagues since 2020 - IPL, PSL, BBL, CPL, Vitality Blast