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The mixed emotions of Asad Shafiq

The batsman leaves Dubai with the relief of having returned to form, the heartbreak of seeing another heroic innings go in vain, and the frustration of needing to wait seven months to play his next Test match

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
There are two ways of looking at Asad Shafiq's 11th Test hundred in Dubai. One, that it was a good thing, given his 10th had come almost a year ago, and he'd not even reached fifty in his last 11 innings. The other way to look at it is that this was another hundred in a lost cause, of which he now has five.
And he has them in all shades: a difficult first-innings hundred in South Africa that should've won Pakistan a Test; two pointless last-innings hundreds in innings defeats; and now two heroic fourth-innings hundreds that fell just short in taking Pakistan home in big chases.
This one, and the last at the Gabba, are the ones that have stung the most. As he walked away from the post-Test press conference on Tuesday, he couldn't help but refer to the Gabba and this, and wonder. It has stung.
Still, a return to runs is a return to runs, especially for a player who has been through such a lean run. And it is runs rather than form - at least through this series, and even the Tests in the West Indies, Shafiq did not look like he was doing something glaringly wrong.
Since the beginning of this slump, after a 50 in the first innings at the MCG on Boxing Day last year, only twice did his stay at the crease last less than half an hour. In this series his shortest stay was for 52 minutes. So he has looked more or less okay, just that he has been getting out.
Coach and captain - sitting next to him at the press conference - have been nothing less than unequivocal in their backing. Every new dismissal under 50 has brought out the same support - he is fine, he just needs one innings to break through.
Perhaps it was the situation of the game when he arrived (turgid start, in trouble at 49 for 3, chasing 317), or his own run, or likely a combination of both, but it was his most assertive start in some time.
"It's true that my last 4-5 innings were not up to the mark," Shafiq said. "But I was positive. I was always thinking positive. And when I came to bat in this innings especially, I was thinking about attacking the ball.
"In conditions like this if you play maiden overs from this quality of bowlers, they will not give you easy runs. So that's all that was on my mind, that I have to play positive cricket."
The innings, confusingly for Pakistan, came from No. 5, his first hundred in that position. Nine have come from No. 6 and one from No. 4: the latter is where Pakistan want him to thrive and where he has played this series, the former where he has scored all of his runs. No. 5 was meant to be for this innings alone, because Pakistan wanted a left-hander - Haris Sohail - to be at the crease at the time. Was it no big deal that Shafiq looked as comfortable as he did, a little lower down? It has left Mickey Arthur, by his own admission, confused about where Shafiq should bat.
The player himself is in little doubt. He wants No. 4, even though he averages 32 in five Tests now at that position. "I've said this before to the team management, and I told them I want to play four. When my career began I used to play opener or one-down and when I first got into the Pakistan team I did come down [the order]. But I was very comfortable at four. Unfortunately I couldn't perform but that is where I am comfortable."
Having belatedly come back into runs, Shafiq now has to, metaphorically, twiddle his thumbs till next May. Pakistan don't play a Test until they go to England for a two-Test tour (and possibly a Test before that against Ireland) next summer and as he has become all but a Test specialist, he will have only first-class cricket at home to play. That too will not be a full season.
In fact, between the last Test of the West Indies tour this May and the first in England next May, Shafiq will have played just two Tests in a year, the kind of schedule that makes life as a batsman that much more difficult. This series began so early, he didn't even have a chance to play four-day first-class cricket in Pakistan because the Quaid-e-Azam trophy had yet to begin.
"As a professional you can't make this excuse that you haven't played for so long, or that you are playing after such a long gap," he said. "But it is right that there was a huge gap in between. And because of that I didn't have that preparation that I thought would've been good.
"The domestic season has just started so if I had played 2-4 matches, it could've helped preparation. But as a professional, we know that even if we don't get practice matches in that format, our practice should be of that quality that whenever we come to play, we should be ready."

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo