From despair one week to delight the next, Asad Shafiq’s last three innings have been a fitting representation of the ever-changing fortunes of the Pakistan cricket team.
Despite picking up a dreaded pair in the third Test at Edgbaston, the right-hander found himself thrust up the order at The Oval, at No 4, and responded in style, leading his side’s fightback with an excellent century.
In a side containing two of cricket’s elder statesmen Misbah ul-Haq and Younis Khan, as well as the always entertaining Safaraz Ahmed and quite often a comically misfiring opening partnership, Shafiq is something of the forgotten man. Kept below the decks at number six, but often on hand to steer his team out of dangerous waters their top order seem keep venturing into.
Despite their seemingly ceaseless appetite and ability to make runs, a combined age of 80 does inevitably mean that the golden age of Misbah and Younis is reaching its end, but at least in Shafiq there are signs that the cupboard won’t be left totally bare for Pakistan.
Shafiq may equal Garry Sobers for the most amount of Test centuries made at number six, but as many have suggested for some time, his future belongs higher up the order for Pakistan — and while he may not be as young as his looks would imply, at 30 he has plenty of good years left in him.
In an era of Test match cricket that many would argue is not of the same calibre as previous decades, there has nevertheless emerged a golden generation of top order batsmen spread across the globe — Kane Williamson, Joe Root, Steven Smith and Virat Kohli — and in Shafiq, Pakistan perhaps have a man who could challenge for a spot in cricket’s most prolific boy band.
With a technique lifted straight from the pages of a cricketing handbook and perhaps more importantly a fairly unassuming temperament to go with it, Shafiq quietly goes about his business for Pakistan, trying to emulate his batting role model, the legendary Mohammad Yousuf.
While seven of his previous Test hundreds have come in Asia, perhaps as much a reflection of Pakistan’s limited recent tours as anything, he does have a century in South Africa to his name — made on a lively Newlands wicket against the not inconsiderable talents of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander — and while batting conditions could scarcely have been more favourable in south London on Friday, he can now add another well-deserved century to his tally outside Asia.
Dropped on seven, Shafiq made the most of his reprieve — another man to profit from profligate fielding in this series — favouring the off-side behind square in particular, as he and Younis wrestled Pakistan back into this match.
After 163 balls of mostly nerveless batting, there was a brief and slightly frantic pause before three figures were brought up — 16 balls, spanning four overs, spent on a nervous 99, before a clip down the ground brought the highly-prized single and with it an exuberant, helmet-removed, air-punching celebration — a sparkling high to make amends for the crushing low of his Edgbaston pair.
In the end it took a stunning catch from Stuart Broad to remove Shafiq, but by then the real damage had been done, a glimpse of Pakistan’s batting future left behind for a capacity crowd at The Oval to take home with them on a gloriously warm summer evening.