Top T20 run scorer, all-rounder, former captain, mentor – all these accolades describe Shoaib Malik to a large extent but they do not do justice to the persona he has evolved into. Having been villified during the earlier stages of his career, his run-scoring and tweets now strike such a public resonance, that he has superseded the criticism.
What has it taken to get here? Malik being a man of few words, he pays a heartfelt tribute to his late father. “It all started with Abbu’s dream when I was 10. I am not quite there yet but it has taken a lot to get this far. Most of them are personal sacrifices on the family’s account, stuff that gets lower priority as there is a series to prepare for, a certain body fat percentage level to achieve, tours, training. Trials, schools, training camps were the highlights of my childhood. This is not just for me, depending on what age you started playing, every cricketer’s lifestyle will rhyme on most part. Allah’s blessings and my mother’s duas have no substitute, needless to say. The coaches, senior members of the team, teammates, the board and management’s support, I could go on and on. If I were to make it simple, I would say it in three words that I try to live by: Discipline. Integrity. Belief.”
It is this very integrity that enables him to see the bigger picture on many an occasion. His recent Pakistan Zindabad campaign is a perfect example of how he is using his position to elevate the image of the country. “The Pakistan Zindabad campaign is not just about me, it is meant to be every Pakistani’s campaign who is active on social media. We owe it to our country to showcase the real side of Pakistan and the Pakistani people. The objective was to break the world record of the longest trend in history as a gift to Pakistan, on her 70th Independence Day. The support was instant and over-whelming. ARY Digital Network was the first channel to call me and inquire about this campaign when I launched it and supported me from day one with open arms. I would like to congratulate ARY Group and the entire staff on their 17th year anniversary, for doing some fabulous work in the media and film industry and for the development of cricket at grass roots level through Karachi Kings. Well done.”
With tallies of 38, 39 and 17 not out in the Independence Cup, given his experience, his average should be higher for the upcoming Sri Lanka series. However, given his newly developed penchant for saying the right thing at the right time, one would think he is still eligible to be the T20 captain. In the recent WXI series, given the squad’s strong bowling attack, he was not utilised as an extra bowling addition and alludes to it somewhat. “My team does not need my captaincy. We currently have a captain who has won everything under his tab and taken the pressure as well. My team needs my form and experience to see us through the middle overs and the end, to be athletic in the field and to add a spin bowling option to the side. Sharing my experience with my mates and mentoring the younger ones is also an opportunity I am trying to exhaust, as I will not have much use of it when I am not playing cricket.”
A fan recently noted that when out of the team,many complain about it on live television shows but Malik kept a low profile and took part in international leagues. He appears to be reaping the fruits of those efforts now. “Fruits of that effort part, I agree, yes my performances in the leagues must have influenced the selectors. I had two reasons to continue playing international leagues, firstly to get my performances noticed and secondly to keep up with my fitness and skills at the highest level, to give myself the best chance to make it back in the team. I had also continued with my domestic cricket throughout. Learning should never end, the skills one has should always continue to improve and playing all types of high level cricket as a student is the best way to roll. Take it from me, there is no substitute or equal to playing for your country. I do not agree on the ‘kept a low profile part’ though, but perhaps it is a discussion for another time.”
The criticism that former captain Wasim Akram made of him last year, of not supporting younger players enough, appears to have been taken to heart and of late, he is seen constantly giving advice both on and off the field. Normally reticent, Shoaib Malik keeps his emotions close to his heart and very rarely reveals anything of himself, other than what is absolutely necessary during an interview. This scribe was pleasantly surprised by the wit he displayed in this exchange, more so, when during a congratulatory Twitter message from Ahmad Shahzad, one was not quite sure if he had been trolling the latter or motivating him. “Actually I was trolling him. That’s how we are in real life as well, he is the shahzada of trolling himself. Ahmad has the most hilarious jokes and stories that everyone in the team enjoys and has a good laugh. I try to encourage him wherever I can, for example, on the final day of the Independence Day Cup, Ahmad heard something on the television screen in the changing room which did not please him. He talked about it and I knew that all I had to do at that time was to listen to him. Ahmad has a good clean heart, he is a good kid who might be misunderstood at times.”
The reference to his teammate hearing something he did not like in the match commentary, explains why, after winning the Man of the Match award in the third T20, Shahzad gave a lengthy response to Rameez Raja and mentioned the importance of a player having the support of his management when out of form.
This support of his fellow players is not just reserved for Pakistani cricketers. Due to him describing former Indian Test captain MS Dhoni as a legend, Malik’s reply to a fan went viral across the border. In a recent Dubai press conference, Salman Khan said that one of his current favourite cricketers is Shoaib Malik. Having posted a click with tennis player Rafael Nadal at the US Open, it is a testament to his ability to cross boundaries that has enamoured him to fellow celebrities.
Former Pakistani cricketers tend to work for the board, join the commentary box or become critics. A few have pondered the option of a political career. Shoaib Malik is currently exhibiting all the qualities of a future statesman but as he has a tendency to catch the media unaware, he might just spin a fresh web around us all.