CRICKET: FIGHTING ON TWO FRONTS

Published August 30, 2020
Shan Masood celebrating his century at Old Trafford
Shan Masood celebrating his century at Old Trafford

He dances down the pitch to heave Dom Bess’s delivery out of the park to reach his fifty in style, but he misses the ball and so does the wicketkeeper, Jos Buttler — a stumping chance goes abegging, but the batsman, Shan Masood lives to fight another day at Old Trafford.

Rigid class lines separate the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in Pakistan society. In bygone days, the first-ever Test captain of Pakistan, the aristocratic Abdul Hafeez Kardar, was admired unequivocally by the public. Imran Khan too received adulation despite his often-patrician behaviour towards his teammates. But in the past two decades, cricketers coming from privileged backgrounds are often disdained.

As do cricketers hailing from cricketing families. The likes of Bazid Khan (son of Majid Khan), Faisal Iqbal (nephew of Javed Miandad), Imam-ul-Haq (nephew of Inzamam-ul-Haq) and Shehzar Mohammad (son of Shoaib Mohammad) have had to face a lot of flak during their careers because of their cricketing lineages, which is assumed to have played a part in getting them where they got.

Shan Masood didn’t come from a ‘cricketing family’. But he does belong to an affluent family. His father, Mansoor Masood Khan, is a renowned banker who has been cricket-mad all his life. So much so that, when Masood’s mother was in labour, giving birth to him in October 1989, his father was watching the ODI between Pakistan and the West Indies being played at Sharjah, in which Wasim Akram took a hat-trick.  

The Kuwait-born Masood made his First-Class debut for Karachi Whites in Oct 2007 and, from that day on, he not only had to compete on the cricket field, but also had to contend with many slings and arrows off the field. He was often called a ‘parchi’ (a rich kid who had made it to that level using his connections). Things went bad to worse for Masood when his father became a member of the governing board in the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in 2014. The label of nepotism seemed to follow him everywhere.

Shan Masood has faced criticism for almost all of his playing life, most of it for non-cricketing reasons. But after the grit he showed at Old Trafford, he can, hopefully, look forward to hostility only from bowlers in the future

Imagine a young player making an arduous effort to make a name and place for himself in a game he deeply loves, but being constantly reminded of his ‘elite’ background. This chasm also exists between the haves and the have-nots in English society. When former England captain Michael Atherton joined the Lancashire county team, he had to go through somewhat a similar ordeal due to his Cambridge University background. Fortunately, in both cases, criticism didn’t break Masood and Atherton, but strengthened their resolve.    

Masood has a sentimental attachment to England. He lived in that country for a few years with his family, in a house located just a few hundred yards away from Lord’s. He played school cricket and studied at Stamford. Scoring runs in England means much to him. In the 2016 Test tour to England, he had a difficult time facing Woakes and Anderson — and, consequently, had a dismal tour, which weighed on him. 

“It was a learning process for me,” Masood had told me when I had interviewed him a day before his departure to Australia for the Test series in November 2019. “I wish I had the knowledge and experience of the game then which I have now. You learn from your failure. I strongly believe that one must never give up. I’m sure I’ll get another opportunity to play in England and to be successful,” he had said then.

At the time, I had noticed a glint in his eye, a determination in his voice when he talked about that 2016 England tour. In 2020, his hard work finally bore fruit. No one deserved a let-off more than Masood at Old Trafford. When Butler missed the stumping chance, Masood was batting on 45 and, when he flicked Anderson to square-leg for two runs to reach his coveted hundred, there were no spectators. Because of pandemic-related rules, only his teammates were there to applaud him. But Masood didn’t need any standing ovation. By scoring this magnificent hundred, he had given a befitting reply to all those people who had hurled ‘parchi’ chants at him. It was his third consecutive and fourth overall hundred, but the one at Old Trafford must have been very special to him. He also posted his highest Test score so far — 156. 

Masood was unable to repeat this good form in his subsequent innings in the series. In the second innings of the Old Trafford Test, he was unfortunate to get caught by the keeper, glancing down the leg side. Then, the batting conditions in the rain-hit second and third Tests, played at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, were tough for all openers. However, out of the four openers — Abid Ali (149), Rory Burns (20) and Dom Sibley (98) being the other three — Shan Masood (179) emerged as the opener with the highest runs at the end of the series.

Masood may not be a naturally gifted batsman, but neither was Younis Khan and see where he ended his career — at 10,099 Test runs. What Masood is, is one exceptional Pakistan cricketer who is as composed as Misbah and as determined as Younis. In spite of possessing very little natural talent, both these legendary cricketers made it to the top with their sheer determination, hard work, and discipline. Masood is following their footsteps. He also spent some time with former Somerset player and now freelance coach Gary Palmer, who tweaked his batting stance, which seems to have done wonders for him.

Masood is a level-headed and articulate person who radiates positivity. He’s so hardened and clear-headed that even some of the most ‘mischievous’ reporters cannot get any negative word out of him in his career so far. His mantra is simple. “In my opinion, you always try to evaluate your good performances and find negatives and point out the positives in bad ones. I think it is a learning curve of life,” he says.

Masood’s turnaround started with a relatively successful South Africa Test tour in early 2019. About that, he says: “I think mentally I was in a very good space. There was game awareness and clarity in my approach because, for two to three years, I had played a lot of domestic cricket. And I was also a part of Pakistan’s ‘A’ team, which helped me gain match practice. I took these things to South Africa. This process and my game plan helped me perform there.”    

Masood has always had an excellent camaraderie with his mentor Younis Khan, who has played a huge role in his development as a player. Once, Masood had some technical batting flaw which needed some fixing. So, he went to his mentor to seek help. Younis Khan’s house is located just outside Karachi, far away from all the hustle and bustle of the megacity of Pakistan. Younis told Masood to send back his driver and made him stay with him for a few days. Younis worked with him in the nets of the Steel Town ground (located near his house) until he rectified Masood’s problem.

“I have always had a special understanding with Younis Khan. He is a mentor and a father figure — though he’s not as old as my father, but I carry fatherly respect for him. He is the greatest ever Pakistan batsman and it’s a privilege for me to get the opportunity to learn from him,” Masood says.

International cricket requires a lot of travelling and time away from the family, but Masood knows where his priorities lie. He is very close to his family — parents, younger brother, and especially his sister, who is physically challenged. “Life has a bigger purpose. It is important to spend some good time with the family,” he says.

Masood, a true fighter, has had to face a lot of challenges on and off the field in his career. Hopefully, after proving his mettle at Old Trafford, he’ll just have to face hostility from the bowlers on a cricket field, and not from people outside the boundary rope.

The writer is a freelance cricket correspondent He tweets @CaughtAtPoint

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 30th, 2020

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