Wednesday, August 12, 2020

What about Asad Shafiq?

Following the piece on Azhar Ali and his performance during the Misbah era and post it, a lot of enquiries have been made regarding Asad Shafiq.

Most believe that his performance too has deteriorated since the retirements of Misbah and Younis Khan.

Initially, I had thought so too, and had planned to write regarding both Azhar and Asad. However after reviewing Asad's numbers, I was quite surprised.

A career average of 38.9, an average of 39.4 during the Misbah era, and 37.4 after it suggests that Asad has been consistent throughout his 10-year test career.

The only thing that has changed since the Misbah-Younis retirement is his conversion rate. Under Misbah he scored a test hundred every 5-6 matches, now it is every 10 matches. Under Misbah he converted every second fifty into a century, now he converts every fifth fifty.

That is not the problem though.

My foremost criticism of Asad's test career has been that he has scored a lot of easy and inconsequential runs. Not match saving or match winning ones.

I went back and looked back at his 12 test centuries, and this is what I found.

Note: Pakistan Score is the score at which Asad walked to the crease.

104 vs Bangladesh at Chattogram
Pakistan Score: 311-4

Exploited a relatively weak and extremely tired bowling attack completely to bring up his first test hundred.

100* vs Sri Lanka at Pallekele
Pakistan Score: 176-4

Helped Pakistan set a target of 270 on the final day. A more aggressive knock could have given Pakistan more overs to bowl Sri Lanka out; however they had only 62 overs, which did not prove enough at the end.

Many criticized him for playing selfishly for a test 100 rather than for a win; while others pointed out that caution was important otherwise Sri Lanka may have had an easier target to chase on the final day.

111 vs South Africa in Cape Town
Pakistan Score: 33-4

His best test century till date. Joined Younis Khan in a 220 run partnership on a tough pitch and against arguably the best test attack in the world at the time.

130 vs South Africa in Dubai
Pakistan Score: 70-4

Having been bowled out for 99 in their first innings, Pakistan were facing a deficit of over 400 runs when Asad joined Misbah. They had a 200-run partnership to delay the inevitable.

137 vs New Zealand in Sharjah
Pakistan Score: 36-4

Belligerent knock off only 148 deliveries while facing a deficit of 340 odd. After being 63-5, Asad had no choice but to attack and play his shots in a lost cause.

107 vs Bangladesh in Dhaka
Pakistan Score: 323-4

Easy runs were on offer against a weary attack that had been plundered for plenty already.

131 vs Sri Lanka in Galle
Pakistan Score: 86-4

A great test match winning century. Put on 140 runs with Sarfraz, batted with the tail, and helped Pakistan set up a match winning total in excess of 400.

107 vs England in Abu Dhabi
Pakistan Score: 251-4

More easy runs as he walked out to bat against some tired bowlers, who bore the brunt of a Shaoib Malik double hundred.

109 vs England at the Oval
Pakistan Score: 52-2

His first and only test century while batting at number 4. Put on 150 runs with Younis Khan, who scored a monumental 218. A century that helped Pakistan to a match winning total.

137 vs Australia in Brisbane
Pakistan Score: 165-4

This could have turned into the greatest test knock ever played. Yet it will be remembered for not being enough.

Pakistan faced an improbable task of chasing a target of 490. Asad, along with the tail, helped Pakistan inch to within 40 runs of that target.

There are many arguments stating that Asad had no choice but to try his luck for as long as it lasted, which he did. Could he have scored the same way if he was under pressure chasing a total of say 270? Doubt it.

112 vs Sri Lanka in Dubai
Pakistan Score: 49-3

Once again it was just not enough, in a chase of 317, where Pakistan ended 68 runs short of the target.

104 vs New Zealand in Abu Dhabi
Pakistan Score: 85-3

This is the only test match, post MisYou, where Azhar and Asad did what they should have been doing from the day Misbah and Younis retired. They put on 200 runs for the 4th wicket to take Pakistan out of a difficult situation; however it was still not enough to save them from defeat.

So then, in a career spanning 10 years he has scored 12 test centuries; however only 2 of those were match winning ones, and only 1 other was a truly great test knock. The remaining 9 were largely inconsequential.

What does this tell you about Asad Shafiq?

A batsman with a sub-40 test average is not a mainstay of any batting line up.

All this suggests that Asad is a decent test batsman, not a great one. He is very good as a supporting act, but can never be the one responsible to steer the ship.

He has an enviable record at number 6. He is the only batsman in the world besides Steve Waugh to score over 3,000 runs at that position. His 9 test hundreds at number 6 are more than anyone else in the history of test cricket.

However, he averages 41 at number 6, which again is decent, but not great. 

There are batsmen like Steve Waugh, VVS Laxman, Sir Gary Sobers, Allan Border, Shiv Chanderpaul, AB De Villiers, Ian Bell and Saleem Malik who average over 50 at number 6.

So the expectation that Azhar Ali should have become the main batsman of the side after MisYou was valid; however to expect the same of Asad is perhaps not correct.

I still feel he fits into Pakistan's test XI, perhaps at number 6 and not any higher. That is the position where he has shone as a batsman, and that is where he should continue to bat in my view.

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