Pakistan captain Shan Masood addresses a press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday.—M. Arif/White Star
Pakistan captain Shan Masood addresses a press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday.—M. Arif/White Star

LAHORE: While acknowledging that leading the national team is an exciting opportunity, newly-appointed Test captain Shan Masood hopes that his squad will produce positive results during a challenging series in Australia where Pakistan have not won a single Test during the past 28 years.

“You should enjoy whatever responsibility you are given. It is a decision taken by [the] relevant authority, but once you are provided the opportunity, you should relish and deliver to the best of your capabilities,” Shan told reporters during a press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday ahead of the national team’s departure to Australia.

The 34-year-old Shan in recent years has not been able to cement his place in the national team in any format, was given the Test mantle in place of Babar Azam after he stepped down as skipper of all three formats following a dismal fifth-place finish by Pakistan at the recently-held ICC World Cup in India.

However Shan, who holds a pretty modest batting average of 28.51 in 30 Tests and has played mere six Tests during the past three years scoring 219 runs at a poor 19.90, remains upbeat after featuring in local domestic and English county cricket.

“I was dropped ahead of the [home] Test series against South Africa in 2021. It took me nearly two years to come back into the [national] team. In the meantime, I played domestic and [English] county cricket. My record before getting dropped reflects that but I have played a lot more cricket since then. I have not scored big but my contributions have come for the team in the last few games, like the Sri Lanka tour [in July 2023],” the top-order batter said.

The captain said the series in Australia holds added significance for Pakistan.

“We are hoping to get positive results for Pakistan, not just as a series result but also in the context of the [2023-25] World Test Championship.”

Pakistan on the tour will play three Tests in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney from Dec 14 to Jan 7. Pakistan, who have not won a single Test in Australia since 1995, were whitewashed on their next five tours — in 1999, 2004-05, 2009-10, 2016-17 and 2019 — losing 14 Tests on the trot.

While admitting that the tour of Australia is challenging, Shan says it also carries opportunities too.

“It is a challenging tour but it is also an opportunity for us to do well and to continue our good start taken in the World Test Championship and to reach its final,” he said.

“During the last two tours of Australia we did [relatively] better. In 2016 and 2019 as we scored 350 plus and more [totals] on a number of occasions. Now our effort will be to convert these 350-plus totals into 450 to 500 in the first innings and pick effective five bowlers who can quickly take 10 wickets of Australia in each innings.”

Shan acknowledged his long cricket-related association with former captains and team-mates Sarfraz Ahmed and Babar Azam.

“I have played club cricket with Sarfraz and domestic cricket for Islamabad with Babar and he had good understanding with both of them.”

Answering a question over his claim that Pakistan had a settled Test squad that required no major changes — just like Babar had asserted going into the World Cup where the green-shirts were fully exposed — Shan said the team in five-day format except for some dearth in bowling resources had become very much settled during the past two years.

“I will differ with the word ‘exposed’ in Australia. A well-settled team means most of the players have been performing together for the last couple of years. Therefore, it is a well-settled bunch,” Shan said.

“Yes, our bowling attack is unsettled. We have one main injury with Nasim Shah and that is making our bowling department unsettled. Nasim had played a great role in winning the last away Test series against Sri Lanka. We also wanted Haris Rauf but he is not available.

“But we have seven bowlers and hopefully they will give their best for the team.

About the preparations for the forthcoming Australia tour, Shan said the squad members had trained in specific conditions for a highly demanding series Down Under.

“We tried to replicate Australian conditions in Rawalpindi during the [recent] training camp. We left grass on the pitches and rolled them accordingly to generate pace and bounce. Only Rawalpindi is a centre in Pakistan where there is some bounce and pace, though still not compared to Australian pitches,” Shan stated.

“We played scenario matches too and invited performing bowlers from the domestic circuit to take part in the camp.”

When highlighted that Cricket Australia had laid drop-in pitches for the upcoming Test series, Shan said every country has particular playing conditions which cannot be copied.

“As far as drop-in pitches are concerned, every country has different conditions and you cannot completely replicate that. Pakistan cannot have [exactly same] conditions that exist in England, Australia or South Africa,” he underlined.

“As for exposure, that’s where U-19 and ‘A’ tours help players understand and adapt to different conditions. When you promote tours at the lower level, it really helps prepare players for tours like these.”

On how it is to lead a team having a number of players holding captaincy experience, Shan said it makes his job easier.

“Whenever I have captained before, there have been past captains in the team. I take that as a positive thing as they make your job easier, in my opinion. We don’t have just one leader in the team,” he said.

“Previously, when I captained Multan Sultans, I had players like [England’s] Moeen Ali who had captaincy experience. As far as the current [Pakistan] team is concerned, players like Sarfraz, Mohammad Rizwan, Shaheen and Babar all have leadership experience, which means there is a lot more insight on offer, especially on the field.

“We can only grow as a team when we all play as leaders and contribute where we can best as per the requirements of the team.”

Shan added, “I have been fortunate enough to get captaincy opportunities in my career, getting it first to lead the Multan Sultans then Derbyshire and Yorkshire really helped me.”

On whether the squad selected for the Australia tour was his choice, Shan said it was picked through consultations among all the stakeholders. “I am satisfied with the selection.”

The captain also praised the talent of newly-inducted young opener Saim Ayub who has risen to prominence through his flair in T20s and the record-breaking batting in this year’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final which was clinched by Sarfraz-led Karachi Whites.

“He [Saim] has done well in domestic cricket and his batting reflects the ideal way of playing, so he has been rewarded for his performances,” Shan said.

“Similarly, [pacers] Khurram Shehzad and Mir Hamza have been awarded [with selection for the Australia tour] for their domestic performances.”

The Pakistan squad is set to leave for Australia from Lahore in the early hours of Thursday.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2023

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