After recovering from his groin injury, Shadab Khan - the Pakistan limited-overs vice-captain - has set his focus on reviving his bowling form as his primary objective. As for his batting, he wants to mould that part of his game as per the team's demands, clear in his head that his role in the team is of a "bowling allrounder."
His bowling form has taken a hit for a few seasons now, but Shadab believes it was the pain from the injury that was having an adverse effect on him. In his first two years of international cricket that began in 2017, Shadab averaged 18.59, with an economy rate of 6.84 and 44 wickets in T20Is, but thereafter his last nine wickets - since October 2019 when Sri Lanka toured Pakistan - have come at an average of 42.33 and an economy rate of 8.46.
"There were injuries, but now I am fully fit and putting a lot of hard work with the ball and I am expecting to get a better result," Shadab said. "I still haven't moved away from my role as a bowling allrounder. Bowling is crucial as I started my career in 2017 with the Champions Trophy, and my bowling was the highlight there. I am very much focused to have it back. Batting is a plus point and if my team is demanding something from me as a batsman, then it's a good skill to have.
"I know I wasn't up to the mark and haven't done well with the ball lately that is mainly because of the groin injury. My bowling action takes a lot of energy and causes pain and was directly affecting it. Batting is different and it wasn't affected by my injury, so it gave an impression that I am into batting only. But I still see myself as a bowling allrounder. I have evolved with the bat, but there were mistakes identified this year as I was struggling in the PSL. Misbah-ul-Haq (head coach) and Younis Khan (batting coach) are working in the nets to rectify that."
He had missed the home white-ball series against Zimbabwe late last year when he first complained about his groin injury but had recovered in time for the New Zealand tour. The problem, however, got worse during a tour game in Christchurch, but he was cleared to lead Pakistan in the T20Is after Babar Azam picked up a finger injury. Shadab was later ruled out of the Test series and remained with the squad for his rehabilitation. He returned to the field during PSL 2021 but averaged 56.50 with the ball in four games taking only two wickets for 8.69 runs per over.
His batting, meanwhile, turned heads, with a strike rate of 144.73 in T20s in the last 12 months, across the PSL, the National T20 Cup, and the T20Is against England and New Zealand. But the allrounder wants to get back to his old way with the ball. He is preparing for the South Africa series with a training camp currently undergoing at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium. Pakistan do not have a spin-bowling coach but Shadab said Waqar Younis is good enough to work with his bowling. In the camp, he is understood to have bowled spells that are longer than four overs to regain confidence.
"His primary job is to pick up wickets and win games for Pakistan," Waqar said. "He is our premier cricketer and with the ball in hand, he can do wonders for the team. With the bat, it's a bonus and we do consider him as an allrounder with bowling as his main role.
"Unfortunately, he has been struggling with the injury but he is a fighter and gives his all for the country, even when he is in pain. Because of the pain, his bowling was not in control. But I am making him bowl a little longer in the nets to get his method right and he is getting his rhythm back. I am hopeful he will do the job for Pakistan."
With Shadab's fluctuating returns, the selectors couldn't resist looking for other options. In his absence last year, Pakistan got in legspinners Usman Qadir and Zahid Mahmood in the side along with left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz. Shadab has, however, remained the side's vice-captain and acknowledges that nobody's spot in the starting XI is guaranteed.
"I know there is big competition around me which I see as a healthy one for the team," Shadab said. "It's not my team, it's Pakistan, and if the team is winning with me or another player that is eventually what we all want for the country. The team right now has become so rich that we have back-ups for every position. It's a good sign for a good team in the world. Such competition is useful. It puts a bit of pressure on every player, but that anyway is always there when you play international cricket.
"And there should be pressure all the time. It keeps you alive and you enjoy playing in it. The sense of competition is important as well. Like how good Usman is doing in his career since he got in and look at Zahid's debut. And Nawaz is picking up his chances well. So I know that we all know that whoever performs will remain in the team."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent