SL vs Pak, 1st Test, Galle: Abdullah Shafique – Elusive Solid Opener Pakistan have finally got?
SL vs Pak, 1st Test, Galle: Pakistan's opener Abdullah Shafique played unbeaten 160-run innings against Sri Lanka in fourth innings of 1st Test match at Galle.
It was a fitting way for centurion Abdullah Shafique (160*) to cut away in the gap through the covers as the ball raced away to the boundary to gift Pakistan their second all-time highest successful Test run chase in Galle, Sri Lanka.
By the time he climbed up the stairs to reach the dressing room, the world erupted throwing all sorts of trivia and stats to prove how splendid that innings was, especially in this modern ‘hit it long enough’ generation, on a track that perhaps saw a near ‘Ball of the Century’ delivery, pitched outside the leg stump to hit the off stump on the third day of the Test match.
“He looked like a kid training for three-six months” - Shafiq Ahmed
A cricketing background does give one an impetus to fly high in his career and Shafique was ‘naturally gifted’ as his father, Shafiq Ahmed, who has been working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a cricket coach for nearly 30 years, described.
“I’d just come back and saw Abdullah shadow-practicing with a plastic bat; I spotted him with the perfect stance, getting his front foot perfectly and pretending to play a front foot defense,” speaking in an interview with Cricbuzz, Shafiq said.
“I’d never believed that sort of talent could exist in someone’s blood till that moment; I realized my boy was a natural.”
Abdullah displayed all of his talents through the iconic home series against Australia when he raised his bar against the world class bowling combination of Mitchell Strac, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon and so on.
“As a cricket coach with so much experience, I do often slip in words of advice or inputs; it’s not that he won’t accept them but if he thinks that he’s got out to a shot that was right one to play, he won’t accept anyone saying it was a mistake,” Shafiq revealed about the confidence and self-belief his son used to showcase even at a young age.
Abdullah was such a kid who didn’t used to talk a lot, someone who wasn’t very social and that always gave people a wrong impression that Abdullah was arrogant. “He’s just a very reserved boy,” Shafiq opened up about his son’s calm nature. “He was never into any gossip or matters that were unrelated to his cricket.”
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The breath-taking stay that hoisted people on their feet
A target of 342 was required to be chased down with little more than five sessions in hand. In an era, where the likes of Rishabh Pant or Jonny Bairstow lit up the stage with their mindblowing knocks where Test hundreds come faster than One Day hundreds, Abdullah Shafique seemed to be someone from the bygone era, quite in the mould of Cheteshwar Pujara.
Coming as a young opener in the fourth innings at Galle and taking centrestage with a job of holding fort, thanks to his high mental preparation against the Sri Lankan bowlers who wreaked havoc on the mighty Australian batting a week ago at the same venue, Abdullah touched a feat that might feel smaller than it really was.
It wasn’t stunning for those who saw him with that match-saving 96 in 305 balls against Australia in Karachi. Spin in Galle is what fast bowling used to be in Perth and Kingston. Before the chase, no ground in the world with at least 20 Test matches was harder for fourth innings batting than Galle.
“For a young player to anchor a large fourth innings run chase is extraordinary; Abdullah Shafique looks a very good player,” the voice of cricket, Harsha Bhogle spelled out.
The concentration level with determination in the eyes and control in the hands was of another level; and the 22-year-old was playing in his 6th Test match with a “huge” experience of three first class games prior to his debut. His 160* in 408 balls consisted of just seven boundaries and one softly cracked six.
“Abdullah played with focus and patience and these qualities are needed for playing in Tests,” Pakistan captain Babar Azam scanned the standards of the knock. “On a track which was little tricky to play on, it’s important to remain calm and believe in yourself.”
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Records and stats that make the innings ten feet taller
There are few records and stats that make some knocks even more special, and Abdullah Shafique grabbed some of those records that seemed to be unbreakable.
Shafique is now only the second opener after legendary West Indian opener Gordon Greenidge to remain unbeaten in a successful chase of a 300-plus target. He also now sits behind only Sunil Gavaskar, Don Bradman and George Headley in the list of most runs after six Tests.
The amount of time Shafique spent on the crease was 524 minutes, which is the longest by anyone in a successful fourth innings chase. Speaking about averages after minimum 10 innings, Shafique is second with an average of 80 after Bradman’s 99.94. His 160* is the third highest score for Pakistan in the fourth innings of a Test match.
Talking about the cricketers who have faced 400+ deliveries in the fourth innings of a Test match, Shafique joins the elite list of Mike Atherton, Herbert Sutcliffe, Sunil Gavaskar and Babar Azam.
Shafique, in just six Tests, already has more runs in the fourth innings than Salman Butt, Ramiz Raja and Ahmed Shehzad managed in their entire careers.
Is that enough to make him ten feet taller? If not, wait a little, he’ll add more in the near future.
Read More: Pak vs Aus, 3rd Test: Khawaja's 104* helps Aus set Pak 351; hosts 73-0 with openers holding fort
The million-dollar question - Is Shafique Pakistan’s new stable opener?
The story of Pakistan openers in the longest format of the game doesn’t draw a great picture. The fact is not that they don’t begin their careers well but the issue is that they don’t end it in the right way. Few bright innings to blow away the fans and in the speed of the wind, they themselves get lost.
In the last 10 years, Pakistan have used 15 different Test openers in which Mohammad Hafeez has most red-ball runs with 1580 in 24 games while Azhar Ali, who is not even an actual designated opener, has scored 1556 runs in 20 games. So, the old issue is that they can’t last for a long time in the Test arena.
But Abdullah Shafique seems to be different; a 90 per cent control factor, over nine hours across two days on a Galle surface, with perhaps one or two rush of blood shots that too came at the end of the game with rain coming, makes him a perfect contender for the spot.
Moreover, he is calm, solid and appears to be really mature with confidence on his side; he can be a vital member of the Pakistan Test side in the upcoming years.