As Sharjeel Khan rocked onto the back foot and pulled Mark Wood to the square-leg boundary at Trent Bridge, the Pakistan opener was putting into practice the hard work he and his father carved out on a marble courtyard in Hyderabad.
From those burgeoning moments facing an egg-shaped plastic ball to despatching England’s fastest bowler, Sharjeel has become Pakistan’s ray of sunlight in an ODI side being left in the dark by the rest of the world.
His aggression at the top of the order is in stark contrast with an otherwise largely dated 50-over outfit.
And Sharjeel’s comfort against pace is a key component to his growing importance to the side, an attribute he credits as being borne out of hours working on playing the short ball with his father, former first-class cricketer Mehmood Khan Alizai, as a teenager.
“My back foot technique was developed on my marble courtyard, when I was 15. Papa [Father] sussed out a plan, he bowled short balls at me from a distance of 10-12 metres,” Sharjeel told The Tribune.
“I used to wear a helmet and learned coping with extra pace and bounce, I was hit many times too but that helped get rid of my fear of the cricket ball.”
The father and son combo used a special egg-shaped plastic ball for sharpening his reflexes, the ball skidding off the marble surface at a rapid pace.
It helped Sharjeel learn swaying how to sway and duck short balls as well as master the pull and hook shots.
“The special ball really helped me develop reflexes,” he said. “Once I started going for net practices as a teenager, I used to thrive on playing short balls, even in the nets we used to place a marble slab and make brand new cricket balls skid off at a quick pace.
“All this practice has come incredibly handy for me and now I feel at ease even against express fast bowlers, in fact I want them to aim for my head.”
Sharjeel’s rise from discarded international to one-day lynchpin has been remarkable and his return to the Pakistan setup very much centred in the UAE.
For five years, the opener played for Phoenix Medicine in the UAE during the Pakistan off-season and it was his stunning century in Dubai during last season’s inaugural Pakistan Super League that saw him drafted into his country’s Asia Cup and World T20 sides after a two year exile.
And Sharjeel acknowledges the UAE as having aided the progress that has seen him earn a county contract in England on the back of his displays in the UK this summer.
“It was my first tour of the UK, all this while I used to prefer playing in the T20 leagues in Dubai and to be honest, those tournaments were helpful and fairly competitive as well,” he said. “But playing in the UK is altogether different, you are noticed and after I scored a century against England Lions, I was offered a contract by Essex County.
Eventually, Leicestershire succeeded in winning over the southpaw with an improved offer and Sharjeel is eagerly looking forward to donning their colours in next year’s T20 Blast.
“I was given a good offer by Leicestershire and it makes me happy that I have made an impression in the UK, next year promises to be even more exciting and I am already looking ahead, but for now my priority is to churn out more runs for my country,” he said.