Match Analysis

Aslam hints at an end to Pakistan's most permanent problem

As good a batsman as he has shown himself to be, to give off a sense of permanence in his first Test innings in England is what stood out about Sami Aslam

Inzamam-ul-Haq is not only a man of few words, he is a man of precise ones, unwilling to expend vocabulary just as he never used up more energy than was necessary while playing. Once, famously, when a reporter asked him about the possibility of a match having been fixed, he leaned over as slow and sure as he often did into a cover drive, gathered his thoughts and replied with no emotion or change in expression: "Shut up."
He was sauntering around Edgbaston on Thursday in his capacity as Pakistan's chief selector, no doubt pleased that the two changes to Pakistan's XI for this Test have reaped such immediate and healthy reward.
Now, Inzamam had been out of cricket for a while until he became chief selector, and Inzamam being out of cricket means he was really out of it. There is little chance he would have seen too much of Sami Aslam as he was setting the U-19 world alight. Thursday would have been the first time he saw him bat in serious circumstances and it was certainly the toughest test he would have seen him undergo.
His assessment was exact and worth paraphrasing here. There are some batsmen who are shot-makers, he said - and not revealing those he named does not make it any more difficult to know which names he meant - and some who know how to score runs. Aslam, he said, was the latter.
No matter how many times we see Aslam bat over the rest of his career, this truth will be enough in guiding us. It is certainly not a dig and neither does it imply an incapability to play shots. He has them, as anyone who has seen his limited-overs performances at U-19 level will attest.
In his 82 today there were a few you might want to GIF, chief among them a little straight drive off Chris Woakes. But they just do not seem as important - even of the two sixes Pakistan hit off Moeen Ali, it was probably Azhar Ali's that will stick more in the mind. And, ask yourself, how often you can say that of any shot Azhar plays?
No stroke of Aslam's was as memorable as any other which got him runs, which is to say there were plenty. There were the bunts on the off, the easy pushes off his thighs and hips. And there were the leaves, which today were guaranteed greater attention than they might otherwise have had because it was something the man he replaced - Masood - was unable to do.
That kind of judgment, and its suggestion of an intelligent batting mind, was present through the entirety of his innings. After he twice lap-swept Moeen for boundaries, even those did not seem as important as the effect they had on England's field: duly they moved square leg to leg slip and Aslam dinked a little single into the newly-created vacancy.
Twice he went long periods without a boundary, first for 13 overs before lunch - brought to an end by that drive off Woakes - and then for over an hour after lunch. In that first period his scoring stalled, moving from 10 to 15. In the second he went from 23 to 47. But at no point during either did the fact of no boundaries, or even a supply of runs, seem to matter in the context of Pakistan's innings, or, more importantly, did it perturb his. Throughout he knew where and how he would get his runs, and he did.
You can go through this Pakistan batting order and, in conditions outside Asia and sometimes against the better bowlers inside Asia, feel that no matter how long some of them stay at the crease, they rarely look truly settled, or at least not in the sense that the best young batsmen of this age do.
That is what would have pleased Pakistan the most, that at no stage after he was set did Aslam look like an implosion was a matter of inevitability, with only the details for that eventual demise to be inked in. As good a batsman as he has shown himself to be, to give off this sense of permanence in his first Test innings in England is what perhaps stood out - you have to go back a decade to find as assured an innings by a Pakistani opener in England (Mohammad Hafeez at The Oval, in case you felt like turning your mind inside-out briefly, and he's never had it so good here since) and maybe a decade before that for anyone to have done it with any regularity. Aslam batted as if completely ignorant of the not-so-pretty context of being a Pakistani opener in England.
Such was the serenity that radiated out from Aslam, it actually helped Azhar Ali settle down, as he would later admit. For a man playing his ninth Test in England and 48th overall to say that about a man playing his first in England and third anywhere is, well ... it is something.
The curse of history, of course, is unavoidable and so, to end on a note of caution is not only wise but necessary. Pakistan have burnt through way too many openers over the last 20 years even to begin to imagine that they might have found a permanent solution to a permanent problem. Too many have come, impressed like Aslam, maybe even for longer and with greater force, and then whoosh, gone, just like that.
Perhaps it is enough to imagine that for now, a Pakistan opener may have changed the course of a Test in England - and even that is hardly set in stone - and with it, just maybe, the series.

Osman Samiuddin is a sportswriter at the National and the author of The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket