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Who is Pakistan's T20I player of the year for 2017?
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In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the Pakistan batsman spoke about his determination to put in a good performance and turn things around in the upcoming 2nd Test in Dubai.

By Amir Husain (5th October, 2017)

Pakistan’s shock defeat at the hands of the less-fancied Sri Lankan team has left a few questions open about the new-look home-side’s ability to handle pressure, especially when it comes to batting.

Devoid of the rock-solid base that the experience of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan used to provide, the Pakistan batting line-up suffered a monumental failure in the second innings of the 1st Test match against the spin of Rangana Herath who walked away with 11 wickets from the game.

With the second and final Test, a day/night affair in Dubai, there is unease in the ranks of Pakistan supporters who are anxious about the outcome of the crucial game. A loss or even a draw in the second match could see Pakistan drop to 7th position in the ICC Test rankings, adding further humiliation and a less than welcome start to Sarfaraz Ahmad’s reign as Test captain.

One of the key batsmen who has always been identified as a worthy successor to the mantle left by the two Pakistan stalwarts is the 31-year-old Asad Shafiq who was expected to partner the similarly experienced Azhar Ali to ensure that catastrophic failures could be avoided.

With 57 Test matches in which he has now scored 3490 runs, Asad’s failure to score big in the 1st Test was identified as one of the causes for Pakistan’s defeat in Abu Dhabi. His detractors will point to his inability to convert starts as well as his poor shot selection, but even they would have been surprised by his success not in batting but in bowling where he claimed the wicket of Thirimanne in the second innings.

 

 
 

 

The Pakistan batsman known for his demure demeanour was pleasantly surprised by his bowling success but credited that to his hard-work in the nets. Whilst, it would be easy to regard Asad’s bowling success as a fluke but what the spectators saw in Abu Dhabi was a fairly decent bowler who could play an important role as a part-time spinner in Tests for Pakistan, as he explained in an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net.

“I am of course pleased about my success in the Abu Dhabi Test match as I picked the wicket of a decent batsman. In the nets, I did practice a lot and concentrated on bowling in the right areas during those sessions. I do take my bowling very seriously and the results are there for all to see but for me to do this on a regular basis will require a lot of hard-work and focus in the future. I will do what I can to try and get my team important breakthroughs in the next game in the same way I did in Abu Dhabi and it would give me great satisfaction if I can perform well with the ball to help my team.”

Whilst Sri Lanka's batsmen took the advantage from Pakistan by batting themselves to a good first innings score, it is also true that none of the Pakistan batsmen barring the admirable Azhar Ali who reached the milestone of 5000 runs could assert themselves. A good first innings lead could have easily been the difference between an eventual win or loss but the inability of the rest of the middle-lower-order to capitalize on a reasonable start hurt Pakistan in the final analysis.

Asad Shafiq’s low scores of 39 and 20 in both innings were not what the doctor ordered for a Pakistan batting line-devoid of big names and this is something the batsman feels was a personal disappointment. But as he did in the summer of 2016 against England where he turned what looked like a downward spiral into an emphatic personal triumph with an innings of 109 played under extreme pressure, Pakistan will look for Asad Shafiq to regain his composure and take his side to a series squaring victory in Dubai.

“Of course, the loss in Abu Dhabi hurt all of us including myself and I am determined to ensure that I will be able to put the disappointment behind me and concentrate on the task ahead to deliver the kind of performances that I am capable of and one that the country expects of me.”

The vacuum that has been created in the Pakistan team by the departure of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan due to retirements in early 2017 is one that will take some time to fill. The experience and maturity that both batsmen brought to bear witnessed Pakistan rise to the number one ranking in Tests and is something that a grateful nation will never forget. The absence of both batsmen, however, has created a situation which begs for the likes of Asad Shafiq to step in ensure that the loss is mitigated by his performances. This is a pressure that he feels but as the diminutive batsman has shown over the years, is something that he is well equipped to handle, “The gap that exists because of the departure of two greats of the game who have served Pakistan with distinction for many years is one that cannot be filled with ease. Both Misbah and Younis were vastly experienced and steered Pakistan batting through very tough times which speaks volumes for their skills. It is now up to all of us, including Azhar Ali, Sarfaraz and myself who have played under the guidance of these two great batsmen for 6-7 years. It's time for us to stand up and be counted and pay back the trust put in us by the selectors.”

With 10 centuries and 18 fifties in Tests, Asad Shafiq’s skill and abilities as a batsman are there for all to see. He may have experienced a temporary dip in form in the 1st Test, albeit against a supremely gifted spin wizard in the shape of Rangana Herath, but there is no doubt that Asad’s resilience under pressure is something that Pakistan fans have been used to for a while now. Whilst it will take a supreme effort to turn the fate of the current series, there is little doubt that in the minds of Pakistan cricket followers that Asad Shafiq has what it takes to answer the tough challenge that lies ahead, “I will be the first one to admit that my form is below par and not what I or my fans expect of me. There is little doubt that the last few Tests I have played have not yielded the results that I was hoping for but I am determined to turn things around and put in a match-winning performance for my country in the next game”, he concluded.

 

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