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Match Analysis

Shakeel lays claim to being one of Pakistan's middle-order mainstays

Batter shows promise in his first international century, against New Zealand in Karachi

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
04-Jan-2023
Saud Shakeel used the sweep shot to good effect against the NZ spinners  •  Associated Press

Saud Shakeel used the sweep shot to good effect against the NZ spinners  •  Associated Press

The Karachi crowd has maintained the sort of healthy distance from the cricket this season that Marie Antoinette likely reserved for late 18th century Parisians, and it's not like their team has given them much reason to reevaluate their life choices. Pakistan enjoyed their best day of the series. They scored 253 runs, and lost just six wickets. They won't concede the huge lead New Zealand threatened to take when Imam-ul-Haq fell early this morning, even if victory seems just as far away as it did 24 hours ago. But there were scraps (of bread, not cake) for the smattering that turned up today.
When - and it feels like a question of when, not if - Saud Shakeel goes on to become a steady presence in the middle order, very few will be able to truthfully claim they were there when in happened. For watching a Shakeel innings is like attending a winter wedding in Pakistan; you may not want to do it, but when you look back at it, you're glad you ended up going. Unlike that Shan Masood innings, which is a party you can dip into, knowing it'll end long before it stops being fun.
Shakeel walked in having watched that Masood innings, and recognised that things which aren't fun also sometimes need doing. Since then, he methodically went about stripping the excitement out of the game, and presumably New Zealand's will to live alongside it. He didn't get off the mark for 42 balls; Tim Southee and Matt Henry kept offering him tempters outside off stump, but they might as well have been offering beef steak to a vegan for all the success they had.
It was a trend he continued at the start of the third day, and kept up right throughout. He would leave 75 of the 160 deliveries he faced from fast bowlers, and defend another 37; just 30 runs were scored off the seam all innings. He left Daryl Mitchell like he was prime Glenn McGrath, a middleman in what was effectively a throwdown between Mitchell and Tom Blundell behind the stumps. Of 38 balls he bowled to Shakeel, there was one scoring shot; 25 were let go.
"They had a certain plan against me, the fast bowlers," Shakeel said at the end of the day. "They started that way yesterday against me, too. It was a good plan against me, so I thought I would weather it and try and score runs from the other end. That might explain why I slowed down a bit because I didn't want to fall into that trap.
"Tim Southee was landing it outside off, and I kept leaving it. And if I took a chance against that ball, there was a risk I'd get out, and we'd already lost three wickets. Credit to them, they stuck to their plans and kept bowling that line."
It's not as if he wasn't scoring runs, though, because New Zealand's first innings lead kept coming down. That might have had more to do with the canny counter-attacking that characterises Sarfaraz Ahmed at his best, but Shakeel's contribution was - very slowly - building up too. Much of it came against spin; the sweep so emblematic of the games of both Karachi boys at the crease was deployed to great effect. He would be most productive against Ish Sodhi, swept as soon as he overpitched, and punched through the covers off the back foot when he overcorrected.
And all through it, Shakeel never once worried about his strike rate. The results might be more prosaic than they are watchable, but his yardstick for success sees him pass with flying colours. He was in control of 93% of the 336 deliveries he faced, higher than any other player. He is the sort of person who would behave the same way no matter whose company he's in, and bat for Pakistan in a Test match exactly like he would for Sindh in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy. Not for him the razzmatazz of Bazball, the shapeshifting strategies of Masood. This is how his batting was forged, and he's not about to give up on it now. He may be like a Nokia 3310 in the age of the smartphone, with all the excitement that implies. But it also makes his defences significantly harder to hack.
It's difficult to remember when exactly the runs were made, because there are no phases to a Shakeel innings. The runs under his belt by this point almost feel like they've been worn down into joining his tally than actually made. There is no twitchiness when he starts, no eagerness to get to a half-century. Similarly, there were no nerves as he approached his first hundred for Pakistan. When Michael Bracewell pitched one up, there were no half-measures to the slog-sweep which brought him up to 99. This was where he got his maiden first-class hundred, and it's where he scored his first in internationals.
The milestone came up similarly uneventfully, a little nudge into the covers, but even that doesn't kickstart another phase to the innings. If anything Shakeel slows down even more, adamant not to give New Zealand the satisfaction their plan to dismiss him might work. It perhaps doesn't occur to him that keeping him tied up not scoring runs while they plug away at the other end might just be the real plan, after all. And while he scores just 15 runs off the 85 balls that follow his century, New Zealand pick up four wickets that see them poised for a handy first-innings lead.
Pakistan might yet end this wretched home season with no Test wins, but with a batting order in transition, Shakeel's emergence is like manna from heaven. As a cricket board - and a country - Pakistan seem to constantly look outward and abroad for quickfire miracle solutions. So the fact their brightest light this season is a man from this very city who would never substitute the grind of hard work for a short cut is perhaps something of a teachable moment.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000