Pakistan’s ascent to becoming the number one Test team in the world last year had its headline makers.
Misbah-ul-Haq was rightly praised for their rise, six years in the making and during international exile.
Younis Khan’s hundreds when they needed him the most, Yasir Shah’s race to 100 Test wickets and the return of Mohammad Amir were wonderful stories to tell.
They were all blockbuster stories, but Pakistan’s rise would not have been possible without the ensemble cast of characters in support.
Chief among them was Asad Shafiq, who in 2016 offered solidity and consistency to the team.
He also nearly pulled off the most remarkable win in Test cricket’s illustrious history in Brisbane with his Test best knock of 137.
At 31, Shafiq is entering his golden years and the man from Karachi is determined to ensure 2016 serves only as the start of things to come and is not remembered in the future as his best year.
It is so far [the best year of my career] but my best is yet to come,” Shafiq told Sport360 on the sidelines of the Pakistan Super League. “I’m working hard on my game to improve every day and to get better every day.”
Pakistan fans will hope he is nowhere near done, with Shafiq a vital part of the succession plan come the looming retirements of Misbah and Younis.
The rejig of the Pakistan batting order is already well underway, with Azhar Ali promoted to opener and Babar Azam coming into the side at number three.
Sharjeel Khan’s spot-fixing suspension, something Shafiq says doesn’t concern him, is likely to complicate things further.
For many, when Babar breezed into the side at three it was foolhardy to have overlooked Shafiq in favour of the new kid on the block.
Babar’s first forays into Test cricket could surely have been made easier ones by batting down the order and Shafiq’s experience at three invaluable to a side in transition and suffering a wobble.
Shafiq, who has the highest number of Test centuries batting at six (nine) and is 342 runs off Steve Waugh’s record for the most in that position, admits he would like to bat higher up the order but is adamant that the team’s desires come before his own.
“I think it’s not about my personal thing, it’s about the team and what Misbah and the coach thinks. They made a plan and they told me they want me to play at six,” said Shafiq.
“Personally, I always prefer to bat at the top of the order, number three or four. I’d like to be there but what matters is what the team requires from me.
“If the team want me to play at six then I’m really happy with this as well.”
For now, Shafiq’s focus is on the ongoing PSL tournament in Dubai where he is opening the batting for Quetta Gladiators.
Having played just 10 T20Is, Shafiq would like to improve his Twenty20 record and find a place for his elegance in the longer format in the savagery of 20-over cricket.
For Shafiq it is all part of a learning curve.
“It’s going very nicely for me so far because it’s a big opportunity for me and for every player in the league to perform well and perform in front of everybody,” said Shafiq. “It’s a good platform for me as well to learn more about Twenty20 cricket.”
So far in this year’s tournament, Shafiq has been criticised by some as not being suited to the format and a return of 85 runs from three innings at an average of 28.33 and strike-rate of 102.40 is a world away from the sort of brutality that brings batsmen T20 success.
But Shafiq is well aware of where he wants, and needs, to develop his game.
“I really wanted to improve my strike-rate. In this format, strike-rate is very important so I really wanted to improve my strike-rate and average as well,” he said.
“It’s about intensity. I have to take my intensity level up to score big in this format because it’s a very short format so you don’t have much time to get in, really get set and then play your shots. I have to change my approach and I want to improve my intensity.
“[Power hitting] really matters sometimes, especially the last three or four overs when you need to be power hitting and I’m working on this as well.”