Comment: Shan writes his script as Root loses the plot

Updated 07 Aug 2020

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Shan Masood plays a shot during the fourth day of the third and final Test match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Pallekele on July 6, 2015. — AFP/File
Shan Masood plays a shot during the fourth day of the third and final Test match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Pallekele on July 6, 2015. — AFP/File

IF back in summer of 2016 when Shan Masood was edging those off stump balls into slips hands like homing pigeons, he would have happily accepted an offer of 40+ in 2020. But such is the improvement he has made in his technique and the knowledge of where his off stump is that not even his nemesis Anderson and the 500-club boy Broad could drive a wedge through his defenses, or tempt him to niggle at the off stump offerings. A stat graphic showed a comparison: 3% deliveries left alone in the corridor outside off stump versus 20% in this innings alone.

Yes, first three missed chances — one at slip early on in the first session on the first day and two by Jos Buttler behind the stumps helped his stay. But some of the finest innings by top batsmen have been the result of such gifts and nothing should take away from the focus and concentration of this young lad. His tenacity was admirable and he showed what a classic opener does when put into overcast conditions on an English ground. He shouldered arms to ones whizzing a few millimeters from his off stump and swayed away from the ones aimed at his nose.

He never lost sight of the big picture and eventually became the first visiting opener over the last five seasons to play out 100 balls on the opening day of a Test in England. That is how difficult it can be for openers alien to English conditions. For that matter Doug Walters, one of Australia’s legendary batsmen scored his first Test century in England on his fifth tour.

Shan played an innings straight out of the 1980s manual for openers; I could clearly see a Shoaib Mohammad or an Anshuman Gaekwad in him, such was his ascetic approach. But if batting coaches were to look for a visual demo of their cry, “Let the ball come on to you, son”, they would pull out this innings. He played, or left, the ball late, watching it hot his bat or pass under his eyes.

Having said that I was flabbergasted when Root didn’t use Bess more against him. There was the singular over before lunch and by the time he brought the off spinner back Shan had figured him out, though even then he missed the odd ball every over and snicked it into his pads. It was a complete giveaway from the England captain throwing his seamers at a batsman who was unravelling their seam movement with the comfort level of an English professor doing the Times crossword.

Root was guilty too on the first day of not capitalizing on the one discomfort Baba Azam has — the rising ball rushing up top him on his body line. Just one hook that he managed to get away with severe dis-ease should have told him to urge his bowlers to bounce more at the master batsman, who is averaging more than the Fab 4 — Kohli, Williamson, Root and Smith — over the last two years.

Then with Pakistan at a scratchy 165-5 he failed to block in the singles that Shadab literally stole from under his eyes. The leg spinning all-rounder, as he now rightfully claims the tile, not just ran England ragged, he attacked as if Pakistan was going for a declaration and got out as well displaying that purpose. Root couldn’t time the placement of his fielders as Shadab and Shan played with the temerity of a Miandad by dropping and running.

Shadab, who once won a bet from Mickey Arthur saying that he would score three fifties in the 2018 series against Ireland and England in the British Isles, came close to another one until he holed out to Bess. But that 100+ partnership had by then taken Pakistan to a number that was already par the score for a first innings total on this pitch.

So far all that the think tank of Misbah, Younis, Waqar and Azhar Ali himself has planned has come to fruition. I was pleasantly surprised when the past passive approach of the three took the route of positivity that Younus Khan has brought to the thinking. They batted first on an overcast sky in Manchester. Ostensibly, that’s the only approach when you play two spinners; you want them to bowl in the fourth innings of the Test match.

They have now been allowed to come back into the game by the England think tank and their insipid approach toward the lower order. Keeping Jofra Archer, man-of-the-series against West Indies recently, to only six overs in the first two sessions, was ludicrous, especially when the three other seamers were making no impact on the second half of Pakistan’s batting. Brought back he got two in two but you could see the lack of enthusiasm in him. He was clearly a hurt man. And Pakistan’s final total of 326 seemed to vindicate his frustration at being ignored during the best part of the day.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2020