While most Pakistan players are shaping up well for the T20 World Cup, Shadab Khan’s diminishing returns are an alarming concern, writes Divy Tripathi.
It took a total of eight deliveries for Shadab Khan to introduce himself to world cricket. His 3-7 against the West Indies felt like a throwback to the Nineties for Pakistan fans. For back in the day, Pakistani youngsters would set the stage on fire in their first few appearances. What stood out though, was the additional bonus that he was a livewire on the field.
And, yes he could bat and finish games too. He showed the same by scoring a quick-fire 8-ball 16 to win a game against Sri Lanka in 2017 at Abu Dhabi. This knock came at a stage when Pakistan needed 12 off five balls with only two wickets in hand on a tough wicket. Pakistan’s then skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed called his six, which brought down the equation from eight off three to two off two, a ‘million dollar shot’. The innings was an illustration of what the youngster could do on his day.
And, it wasn’t merely these flashes of brilliance that defined Shadab. Till 2018, he had taken 42 wickets in T20Is at an average of 17.17, and the same number of wickets in ODIs at 25. However, things changed after the 2018 Asia Cup when Shadab suffered a groin injury. Though he played through the tournament, his figures were severely compromised after the Group A game against India, where he walked off after bowling just nine deliveries.
This was the beginning of a series of recurrent injuries. He missed out on the home series against Zimbabwe last year, and also left the South Africa tour after a toe injury. Since then, his loss of bowling form has been drastic in white-ball cricket. Post-2019, he has 16 wickets at 38.44 in T20Is and 20 wickets in ODIs at an average of 46.85. Moreover, his economy rate, too, has worsened substantially.
This has shown in other places as well. His last two PSLs have been underwhelming with the ball, even as he has taken up the role of an all-rounder who bats higher up the order for his side. He picked eight wickets at an average of 29.37 in PSL 2020, while his figures stood at nine wickets at an average of 36.11 in this year’s PSL. His economy rates on both occasions crossed eight.
In the recently finished National T20 Cup, he picked four wickets at an average of 52.26 with an economy rate of 8.36.
While it is obvious to state that this is an alarming situation, Shadab isn’t oblivious to this fact. Not only does he acknowledge his loss of form, but he has also clearly identified injuries as the main reason behind his loss of form with the ball.
— Shadab Khan (@76Shadabkhan) May 31, 2021
In an interview with Cricinfo, he also gave stress on the above fact, adding that he was fully fit and working on ways to get improved results.
It was interesting to note that he called himself a ‘bowling all-rounder’ and believed that his batting was an added bonus. This is relevant to mention in light of the fact, that of late, Shadab has been trying his hand at the role of the upper middle-order batter.
In the PSL 2020, after taking over the captaincy of Islamabad United, he started off at number seven. Gradually though he made a move up the order all the way to number three and four later in the tournament. This served his side well, as he scored 263 runs at a strike-rate of 159.39. In this year’s PSL, Shadab mostly batted at the top of the order. However, this time around his returns didn’t justify the move. He scored a mere 94 runs in nine outings at a strike-rate of 104.44.
At the beginning of the National T20 Cup 2021, he started off at four, moving to five in the next game, before eventually settling down at six.
It does seem that in the T20s, Shadab hasn’t held himself back from making a good case for himself in the middle-order batter role. Pakistan, too, understand that players like Shadab are a rarity. Given his ability with the bat, they have given him a few chances in the middle, albeit this has been informed by their own desire to maintain a flexible batting line-up.
So, Shadab has floated between numbers five and eight over the last year or so. What has been observed is that while Shadab can play interesting cameos when he gets in, his role in the team hasn’t been properly defined.
But his batting isn’t something that should necessarily become the main talking point around him, since he’s essentially still a bowling all-rounder.
It is his lack of returns as a bowler in recent times, which are a cause of concern. Among the former players who have looked into the matter, Mushtaq Ahmed has put this down to his recurring injuries, and lack of practice while bowling leg-spin. If unaddressed this could become a major issue for Pakistan in the tournament.
Two good years at the highest level as a teenager gave Shadab a solid name as an international cricketer. Sometimes such performances at a young age give one the impression that another prodigy is around the corner. However, not every cricketer lives up to these bright starts. Prime example of the same is Irfan Pathan of India, who blazed to a brilliant start and was expected to be India’s own Sultan of Swing, before losing his zing.
Of course, at present, given his zeal to contribute with the bat, and the balance that he provides, Pakistan cricket will back Shadab. But, he needs to ascertain and work on his loss of bowling form promptly. For if he doesn’t fit the intended role for his side, he might find his cricketing credit running out sooner than anticipated.
In a tournament that could be defined so much by how spin attacks fare, Shadab is a key weapon on paper, a leg-break bowler who lends variety to their slow-bowling reserves. But Shadab would also need to shoulder more responsibility this time, given that Imad Wasim will take up more of the powerplay overs, and barring Mohammad Nawaz, the rest of the department is restricted to veteran part-timers Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez. It all comes down to how he bounces back from the dip. For his own sake and for Pakistan’s fortunes, Shadab would be looking at this World Cup to be the turning point.