Considering that debonair Pakistani opener Ahmad Shahzad does not manage to woo the media with as much elan as T20 captain Shahid Afridi, he is fortunate that both the Pakistani and English media were equally perplexed, as to why he had not been included in the playing XIs for the first three games of the Pakistan-England One Day International series in the United Arab Emirates.
At the start of the series, Sky Sports listed him as one of the five opponents England needed to be wary of. Whilst England had retained the same XI for the first three games, Pakistan had been playing peek-a-boo with relatively new faces such as Iftikhar Ahmed. Now you see them, now you do not. How does this bode for Shahzad’s future? With an ODI strike rate of 72.81 in his 72 matches prior to the last one, in the final match at Dubai International Cricket Stadium, he was seen as the knight to the rescue of a captain plagued by press statistics of yet another ODI series loss in the UAE.
In his first truly uncomfortable press conference in Sharjah, Pakistan’s somewhat sober ODI captain Azhar Ali had faced a barrage of questions about the opener, deflecting queries with a ‘There are 16 of us here and we are one’ response.
Fast forward to the fourth and final ODI at Dubai stadium and the rumour at practice a day before, was that Ahmad Shahzad was to be included. Beset by what appeared to be a stomach/throat ailment, he looked far from his best. Coach Waqar Younis, a glorious taskmaster often vilified by fans for being too strict (notwithstanding the fact that large dollops of discipline are somewhat required for this team), looked sufficiently concerned to refer him to the physiotherapist Brad Robinson. He was given some medicine and went off for a short break. Such was deemed his importance to the end result, the press started looking for him and perhaps getting wind of the positive vibes blowing his way, he resumed practice half an hour later.
Scoring a disappointing 13 runs from 17 balls on match day, he later confirmed that he had been suffering from “..slight flu and a sore back.”
With the advent of the first T20 in Dubai and captain Shahid Afridi being the saviour of the beleaguered, much is expected of Ahmad Shahzad in the T20 series. To his detriment, he scored a golden duck in the friendly against Hong Kong. Captain Shahid Afridi then announced that Shahzad might not play the opening game due to illness.
However, with Ahmad Shahad’s highest T20 score being a fearless 111 Not Out from 62 balls against Bangladesh in Dhaka, he is out to prove that his future scores will be the true testimony of his often-spoken-about, but not-always-harnessed talent.
Shahzad though, has learnt from previous oversight and this time round, his unrebellious silence has been his biggest strength. Having the press on his side (for now), has been an asset too. He may yet surprise his detractors.