Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq © AFP
Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq had hinted at retirement at the end of the Pakistan-England series © AFP

In exclusive remarks to PakPassion.net, Bazid spoke on a variety of topics including Shan Masood’s and Shoaib Malik’s potential at the top of the order, Asad Shafiq’s recent success, and Pakistan’s future after the retirements of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.

Pakistan completed a tense 178-run win over England on Day 5 of the second Test at Dubai, giving the home side a 1-0 series lead going into the third Test at Sharjah. Despite their close call in Abu Dhabi and England’s resistance in Dubai, Pakistan have, as expected, produced some excellent performances in the series already and will now hope to maintain their record of never having lost a Test series in the UAE. READ: Pakistan thwart spirited England by 178 runs in 2nd Test

Questions remain however, as to the suitability of this team outside the familiar conditions of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, and to that end we turned to the level-headed voice of Bazid Khan. The grandson of one of the most illustrious names in Pakistan cricket, Jahangir Khan and the son of former Pakistan batsman Majid Khan, the mild mannered Bazid is a much sought-after television analyst and commentator. In exclusive remarks to PakPassion.net, Bazid spoke on a variety of topics including Shan Masood’s and Shoaib Malik’s potential at the top of the order, Asad Shafiq’s recent success, and Pakistan’s future after the retirements of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.

Shoaib Malik has produced arguably one of the greatest comebacks in recent memory to the Pakistan national side. His success in One-Day Internationals (ODI), averaging 100 since his return, was less of a surprise as compared to his remarkable innings in Abu Dhabi in his first Test in five years. With Azhar Ali injured and unable to take his usual position at number three, Malik, a late addition to the Test squad, was picked as his replacement. With a Test average of 33.45, many felt that while Malik could do the job in batting-friendly conditions, and that his technique would ultimately be tested against the moving ball.

He certainly performed in Abu Dhabi however. After an early let off when he was caught off a no-ball, Malik produced a monumental innings of 245 to reignite his Test career. He has subsequently had issues against the short ball, and three low scores may have confirmed the suspicion that he is not a long term option at the top of the batting order, a point that Bazid Khan picked up by stating, “Shoaib Malik is much more suited down the order, I don’t think he’ll be batting at three in the long-term. He’s brilliant on slow low wickets – against the spinners he is fantastic. The question is his performances on foreign soil. Overseas, he’s not been the same player as he is when batting at home or in subcontinent conditions. If you want to play him overseas you will have to shift him down the order [at] number five or six.”

Bazid continued, “In one day cricket you have to have him because he’s had a phenomenal return to form and he’s a utility cricketer. He fields well, can bowl you a few overs, bats well, and can change the momentum of a game himself. He can slow his run [scoring] rate down and pick up singles, as well as explode at the back end of the innings. In Test cricket, I’m not too sure if he has that quality. He’s not shown that quality of being a top 3 or 4 batsman as yet.

We are seeing his second era so we have to give him the benefit of the doubt that he has improved in that aspect, but against top quality fast bowling there are still questions. The problem here is that when Younis and Misbah go, we’ve not really pinpointed someone to actually take their positions. So Pakistan have gone back to the experienced route, but in the longer run you will probably see Malik shift down the order and it will be a big series for him if he goes to England next year. That will probably be his career-defining series.”

Another player under some pressure is the left handed opener Shan Masood who, after a good start to his Test career, now averages 25.78 from seven Tests. He has been dismissed by James Anderson in every innings of the series so far and is now in danger of being replaced by Azhar Ali for the third Test. Bazid felt that Shan Masood needs to iron out some flaws but expressed concerns about whether the Pakistan domestic structure would provide him the support to be able to do that.

“Shan has issues with the short ball, which we saw in Sri Lanka. Knowing him, he’s a very determined cricketer so he’ll keep going back and getting runs. For him and a lot of Pakistani players, once they come in to international cricket and a fault in their technique is found, we don’t have the first class structure back home for them to work on their faults and come back as better players.

All the great Australian batsmen over the last ten years got dropped at some point and came back as much better players. We talk about Steve Waugh, the Damien Martyns, the Haydens – they would go back to their state side and once they made a comeback they had ironed out all their deficiencies and they became superb players. You don’t tend to see that in Pakistan. If Masood does overcome his technical issues, I think he’ll still be a very good Test batsman. With his determination, I have an inkling he might well do so – I’m not sure if he’ll be provided that base or opportunity but we’ve seen this with so many of our players.”

Two of the standout players of the series against England so far have been Wahab Riaz and Asad Shafiq. Wahab produced the spell of the series on Day three of the Dubai Test, sparking an England collapse which ultimately won Pakistan the game and Wahab the Man of the Match award. Bazid Khan was full of praise for the way Wahab has increased his pace and developed himself into a world class bowler, “I’ve never seen something like this. When he started his first class career he was bowling around 130kph and for a bowler to increase his pace by 10-15kph – I don’t recall any other bowler doing this in my cricketing experience.

With that pace, once he gets consistency he’s very difficult to face. The spell he bowled in the second Test match was exceptional because we all know that he’s got reverse swing, bouncers and pace, but he worked out Joe Root by bowling a consistent line at pace. We must give some credit to the backroom staff because he’s actually produced a consistent spell which you don’t normally associate with him. You normally expect fast bursts with exhilarating bouncers or yorkers but to actually work out a batsman with that reverse swing, that really stuck out for me.”

Asad Shafiq has become one of Pakistan’s most reliable batsman at number six, equaling Sir Garry Sobers’ record of most centuries from that position. His recent form has translated into a career high Test ranking of twelve, and while Bazid is naturally impressed by the right-hander, he knows that more difficult tests are to come, “He’s a very unassuming sort of player. He bats at six and almost goes under the radar and churns out the runs. He’s a compact player and as such doesn’t have too many issues and his temperament is very good. He’s very low key and you won’t notice him in a crowd – he’ll just go about his business.

His test will be playing outside these conditions and the bigger test will be when Younis and Misbah retire and the focus will be on players like Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali and maybe Mohammad Hafeez. When they have to be the mainstay or the leaders of the pack, that will add a new dimension to it and that will be Shafiq’s acid test. At number six, on these tracks he looks very very good. Against the moving ball in testing conditions, that will be his next test, but at the moment he’s probably in the top three batsmen for Pakistan.”

One of the major stories of the England series so far has been that of the record-breaking Younis Khan. He has become Pakistan’s leading Test run-scorer and the first Pakistani to score 9,000 Test runs. His century in Dubai showed that he is still a force to be reckoned with and seems to be going from strength to strength, but Bazid highlighted the fact that a batsman of Younis’ age would generally find it easier on the slower wickets of the UAE as opposed to the livelier wickets around the world, “He’s phenomenal yet some people still doubt him. Misbah and Younis are pretty much the same in that when people start doubting them they come up with bigger performances and bigger runs. Younis churns out the runs and if anybody knew how to bat on tracks which are slow and which spin a bit, and how to get runs on them then Younis is the man. He’s got the best ever game for a UAE pitch or a pitch where it stays low.”

Bazid continued “It’s late on in his career now so that short ball issue will come because it comes to every player when they’re the wrong side of 30. It came to Sangakarra a bit at the back end of his career and even to Misbah to some extent, even Ponting for that matter. So that will come but in UAE he doesn’t have to bother with the hook shot because he can leave a couple of bouncers and then there’s lots of opportunities to score off the front foot. I think in England or Australia you won’t get as much opportunity drive the ball and get those boundaries and get the runs flowing.

But he keeps going from strength to strength and I won’t be surprised if he goes to England and scores a lot of runs and proves the doubters wrong again because that’s just his personality. But logically looking forward you’d say that as it’s the back end of his career, he’s played a lot of cricket in this part of the world and he’s scored lots of runs here. He wants to go to England and maybe that will be a step too far but you never know with Younis.”

At the age of 41, Pakistan’s skipper Misbah-ul-Haq is unlikely to have a lot of cricket left in him, despite the fact that he is still scoring runs on a consistent basis. The proposed series in December against India would probably have been his swansong, but now Pakistan’s next Test series is likely to be the return tour to England next summer, and Misbah has hinted in the press recently that the end is nigh. Commenting on when Misbah should call it a day, Bazid stated “The end of the England series is the right time for Misbah to retire. If that India series had happened or if it does happen I think it will be the last series for him because he’s 41 now. He’s done his bit, he’s scored a lot of runs. He’s a brilliant batsman and a brilliant captain and all the accolades are for him.

It’s the first time I’ve heard him talk about retirement so if that’s a clue to go with it might be his time because he’s never ever talked about retirement and never even discussed it vaguely. He’s such a passionate cricketer – he’s always talking about the game, always talking about cricket. He loves the game so he’ll always be associated with cricket because for him, cricket is just a part of his life so he’ll always be associated with that. But there are a few clues here and there now. He himself mentioned that he might be looking to retire so I think that’s a big clue because a person like Misbah would never even ponder that thought if he was not seriously thinking about it.”

On the subject of the India series, the PCB has tried incessantly to confirm the tour but to no avail. The recent meeting between the two boards in Mumbai was cancelled following the well documented Shiv Sena protest, and Bazid Khan is not convinced that there will be a satisfactory end to this episode and suggested that the PCB focus on its own infrastructure, “I don’t know if there is an end to this issue because it has always been like this. It has never been straightforward with India. Even before the Big 3 there was always a question of ‘Will they come, will they play with us’. When they wanted Pakistan on board to sign the Big 3 issue, Pakistan did so on the basis of the MOU but you never know if India will back down. Pakistan are trying to develop the PSL but they need to develop their own infrastructure and focus on that instead of series with India.

If you keep going and asking India to play – once is alright, twice, thrice – then it becomes a whole new aspect of people questioning your motives. If Pakistan become a strong enough board financially and structurally, and Inshallah I hope it happens, people would want to play you rather than the other way around. It also reflects the quality of cricket that you are playing – the one day side has gone down in the pecking order so if you are ranked in the top two or three, I still don’t think India would play you but you would have a better place from which to project yourself.”

(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. The above article is reproduced with permission from http://pakpassion.net/)