Saud Shakeel Gears Up For His First Away Test


Saud Shakeel gears up for his first away Test

Shakeel is one of the four players to make a debut in the first Test against England in Rawalpindi on 1 December and the left-hander was quick to make an impression with a fourth-innings 76.

GALLE: (UrduPoint/Pakistan Point News-July 14th, 2023) A year after witnessing the two Tests between Pakistan and Sri Lanka from the sidelines in Galle, Saud Shakeel enters the upcoming series on Sunday as one of the mainstays of Pakistan batting after an impressive Test home season.

He was one of the four players to make a debut in the first Test against England in Rawalpindi on 1 December and the left-hander was quick to make an impression with a fourth-innings 76. He scored a gallantry 214-ball 94 in Multan to take Pakistan in the touching distance of the 355-run target before being declared caught behind down the leg by the third umpire.

He scored another second innings half-century in the next Test in Karachi with a 53 and when New Zealand arrived in Karachi for the two Tests, he registered his maiden Test century with a 341-ball 125 not out in the second Test at the same venue where he had brought up his maiden first-class ton.

Saud has scored, at least, 50 or more in the six of his 10 innings. The next few weeks, however, will present Saud, who has made 4,844 runs at an average of 52.08 in 65 first-class matches, a different set of challenges, as he will play his first away Tests. The 27-year-old has made the most of the preparatory camps in Lahore and Karachi to make sure he has all the necessary tools to counter them.

“We have had good preparations leading into this series with camps in Lahore and Karachi,” Saud told PCB Digital. “I’ve focused on enhancing my skills and adding a few more shots in the repertoire. There was a specific focus on spin during the camp in Lahore, which gave me good practice to counter spin on the turning tracks here.

“I’ve also focused on how I can score runs in Sri Lanka conditions, because at the end it is the runs that matter. I play sweep shot well, so I further improved it. Playing the sweep helps me derail the line and length of a bowler. I have also worked to improve my reverse sweep and footwork to tackle spin here.”

Saud has a variety of sweeps - paddle sweep, a full-fledge sweep behind or in front of squad and a slog sweep - in his arsenal and has deployed them with great effect over his career.

Does he premeditate when it comes to working the ball square by getting on his left knee?

“I do,” he said. “Sweep shot is my strength. Some players improvise it, but I premediate it, as I want it to be perfect by reaching the pitch of the ball and having my head in the right position.”

Pakistan famously squared the two-match series last year by recording the highest-ever pursuit in Galle by chasing down 342 at the back of Abdullah Shafique’s 160 not out. Another youngster, Salman Ali Agha, made his Test debut in that series and Saud, ahead of his maiden away Test, is gathering as much knowledge as he can by speaking to those who played in those Tests.

“We [the players] do talk about the game and share knowledge,” he said. “I talk to Abdullah [Shafique] a lot because we are together mostly. When I was here with the team last year, I saw that the spinners do get help from the surfaces, but if you keep on countering them by playing attacking shots regularly and keep ticking the scoreboard, you shift the pressure on the opposition.

“We chased 350 [342] in Galle last year, which looked an impossible task, but our plan was to go for runs and it put the opposition under pressure.”

Though, this might be his first Test away from home soil, Saud comes with plenty of domestic experience that he believes helped him graduate smoothly to Test cricket. He captained Shaheens when they toured Dambulla to play Sri Lanka ‘A’ in two unofficial Tests and three List-A games in 2021. Pakistan batted only twice in the unofficial Test series and Saud made 118 in one of them.

“The experience of playing domestic cricket and for country’s ‘A’ side helps a cricketer a lot. It has helped me a great deal too. I’ve played a lot of domestic cricket in my career. I toured here with Pakistan Shaheens in 2021, though we played in a different city, it gave me an idea of how conditions are here.”

Having a cool and calm head has also helped. “International cricket is all about handling pressure, so if you stay calm on the wicket you can make better decisions. Off the field, as well, I am calm, and it helps me in making better decisions.”

Saud made the most of the off-season by turning out for Yorkshire this County Championship. The stint helped him understand how to further develop his game and ready himself for the challenges ahead.

“It has been a healthy break for me,” he reflected. “There was not much four-day cricket in Pakistan in the last six months so I went to the United Kingdom to play county cricket, which gave me a different experience. This off period also helped me to re-evaluate my game and understand how I can further enhance my skills and fitness, which will help me perform in this series.”

Saud has had a strong start to his Test career, putting 580 runs at a scintillating average of 72.50. With five half-centuries and a century in 10 innings, which does he rate the best?

“My first century in international cricket in Karachi is quite dear to me and it is almost my favourite,” he said. “I regret not being able to finish the match in Multan [against England] when I got out on 96 [94]. Had I finished it for my team, it would have been my favourite.”

Abdullah Hussain

Abdullah Hussain is a staff member who writes on politics, human rights, social issues and climate change.