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.
Carlos Braithwaite, Dwayne Bravo, Keiron Pollard, Mohammad Amir, Umar Akmal and Sarfraz Ahmed will be among the stars on show and you can see how they and their teams fare with tickets now available.
The two nations will meet on nine occasions (three T20s and as many ODIs and Tests) across the country, meaning there’s no reason why you can’t witness the exciting duels live.
The tour gets off next Friday with back-to-back T20 clashes at Dubai International Stadium, giving you a chance to see West Indies – the World T20 champions – in action in the UAE. The teams will then travel south for the third and final game of the series at Sheikh Zayed Stadium as the Abu Dhabi venue hosts its first T20 international since 2012.
If you miss those encounters, then the nations will meet again in the ODIs. Sharjah Cricket Stadium, which holds the record of most number of ODIs as a host, will add to that tally when it stages two 50-over games on Friday, September 30 and Sunday, October 2, before the series comes to a conclusion at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Stadium three days later.
Top-ranked Pakistan will play their first match as the best Test side when the longer format gets under way with a historic meeting on Thursday, October 13. For the first time in the UAE, the Test match in Dubai will be played under floodlights with the second and third Tests scheduled from October 21 (Abu Dhabi) and October 30 (Sharjah).
With tickets now available, Dubai Sports City general manager – sports business Maqbul Dudhia insists it’s a fantastic opportunity to see the world’s best players live.
“West Indies are the World Twenty20 champions and have some players that can light up the night and can create a lot of excitement,” he said.
“It will be a good challenge and I think it’s going to be a fantastic set of matches.”
While Dubai prepares to host its first-ever day-night Test, Dudhia is the urging public to play its part in making the match a success.
“There’s going to be a lot of intrigue around this Test on how it’s going to be planned out. We hope the public can come and watch a new style of cricket in what will be an intriguing contest over five days. It’s being played on Friday and Saturday night where people can come and have a look and enjoy an incredible game.”
He added: “Because of the design of the stadium, the atmosphere will be absolutely incredible. The decibel level will be fantastic and I don’t think it can be replicated in many stadiums around the world.”
Depending on stadium and format, ticket prices start from Dh20 and are available to buy on Kyazoonga.com and at Al Fardaan Exchange outlets across the country as well as TCS outlets and at Tandoori Junction, in the JLT area in Dubai.
Given the popularity of previous series, Dudhia insists not to wait until the last minute.
“Seats for T20s at Dubai Sports City are always in great demand, and with the T20 world champions West Indies in action against an exciting Pakistan unit, these matches are likely to be thrilling encounters.
“The T20Is and the first ever day/night Test match in the UAE will take place under the lights of the Dubai International Stadium’s Ring of Fire floodlights and it is certain tickets for both formats will be much sought after.”
RANKINGS TELL THE WHOLE STORY
In a week when the ICC shelved plans for a two-tier Test championship, its current rankings system was placed firmly under the microscope.
For many, there are still huge issues with the current system and it remains a convoluted, out of date measurement which provides little context to Test series as thrilling as the ones in England or Sri Lanka last month.
But, when it comes to Pakistan, the ODI and Test rankings do, at the very least, reflect the current status of the country’s national side in those formats.
An against the odds draw in the Test series saw them move into first place in the ICC table for the first time in Pakistan’s history.
A walloping in the ODIs saw them slip to an all-time low in the 50-over equivalent, a ninth placed position now leaving them staring at a qualifying tournament alongside the best of cricket’s Associate Nations.
It is a night and day juxtaposition but one many knew was the case before Mickey Arthur’s men set out on their trip to the UK.
Their position at the top of Test cricket should be assured with routine wins over the West Indies this month and they will be confident of securing a first series win in Australia under the leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq.
Little change is needed in the five-day game, bar the odd tinkering, but the ODI side is in need of drastic overhaul to keep up with the rapidly evolving modern game which is seeing records falling nearly every series.
This remains Arthur’s biggest challenge at the helm of Pakistan and it will be more a task of creating new life in the 50-over game and putting the current incumbent to sleep.
WAHAB EMBODIES PAKISTAN’S PAST
“Pakistan are brilliant, but so inconsistent,” or “You just don’t know which Pakistan will turn up”, are two of the most popular utterances when it comes to commentators and fans taking in their cricket over the years. There players were rarely described as being of substance, more maverick than moderate.
It has been a constant cloud hovering over the side, an asterisk next to the country’s name and its greatest players.
But Misbah had put paid to that and his Test side is now the antithesis of those previous hallmarks, finding consistency and solidity their greatest allies in combat.
However, the brilliant mavericks do live on, embodied perfectly by Wahab Riaz.
Easily the side’s most fearful bowler on his day, Wahab continues to frustrate by mixing match winning displays like in the one-off T20I with his ability to be despatched for 110 in ten wicketless overs in an ODI, the second-worst figures in 50-over international history.
He was similar in the Tests, only finding his feet once he was banished to the sidelines. Wahab, it seems, discovers his brilliance when given time to stew on his failures.
It may well be that Pakistan must look to use Wahab in such a manner in the future, handing him a role of impact sub and rolling him out when needed rather than their bowling spearhead.
THERE IS LIFE AFTER MISBAH & YOUNIS
It is incredibly hard to believe so but, yes, there is life after Misbah and Younis Khan eventually hang up their bats.
At this rate that may well be in the year 2042 when cricket is a one-over affair and played by robots for the amusement of Americans, but nonetheless there is hope beyond the stalwarts.
For years, the pained realisation of Misbah and Younis leaving a gaping hole in the Pakistan order that they have plugged with such resilience has been too much for most to contemplate.
But, in Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed, there remains a core of players ready to step up to the plate and score runs in bulk.
The trio proved this at various stages of the tour, and across formats and despite being on the brink of or over 30, they can provide the backbone Pakistan needs to blood younger players.
Misbah’s heir will be plucked from those three names and their importance in the coming years cannot be overstated.
Shafiq in particular, was astounding in the Test series and has the potential to replicate the heroics of the aforementioned legendary duo.
AMIR’S REBIRTH BEGINS NOW
So much was said of Mohammad Amir’s return to England and Test cricket six years on from the biggest match fixing scandal in the sport’s history.
But by the time the series had ended, Amir’s return was largely forgotten. And it is brilliant to be able to type that.
Amir handled himself in exemplary fashion across the entire series, which proved the biggest Test of the young quick’s mental state to date.
He proved his ability at the Asian Cup and then World T20, that was rarely in doubt.
This was the chance to face his biggest mistake front on and show the world that he is both worthy of his place back on the international stage and more than capable of handling the pressures associated with sport at this level.
Now, the resurgence can begin in earnest.
Amir wasn’t at his best with the ball but still played a crucial role in some of Pakistan’s greatest moments on the tour.
As soon as he finds harmony between the two and combines his skill and mental fortitude, little will be able to stop Amir laying waste to batsmen put before him.