In any format, opening the innings is the most difficult job in cricket. Opening requires great judgment, a solid defence, and expertise in facing short balls. An opener must know when to play and when to leave the ball.
After Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail, Pakistan have not had a reliable opening pair.
Pakistan have tried around 20 opening combinations since 2010 and only Mohammad Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar, who played 35 innings together, provided some reasonable foundations.
Taufeeq has been out of sight for a long time now but Hafeez is still part of the national team. He is currently one of the most reliable opening batsmen in all formats of the game for the country. He has been paired with nine batsmen since Misbah-ul-Haq took over the captaincy in 2010.
Openers have been the weakest point in Pakistan’s unstable batting line-up. Only in the last three years, the management tried 11 opening batsmen, but the opening slot remains as uncertain as ever.
In 2014, opener Ahmed Shehzad became the first Pakistan batsman to have a hundred in all international formats. With three centuries, he averaged over 40 after 13 Tests. It looked that Pakistan had found a solution to the long-standing opening problem, but after some time his performance declined.
Shehzad made his ODI debut in April 2009 against Australia in Dubai, but despite his enormous talent, he failed to cement his place in the national squad. In over nine years, he has played just 81 One-day Internationals, scored 2605 runs, averaging 32.56 with six hundreds and 14 fifties.
Shehzad has opened for Pakistan in two World Cups and has been a part of two WT20 squads, in 2009 and 2014.
He has also played 57 Twenty20 Internationals and scored 1454 runs at an average of 26.43. These statistics show the inconsistency and immaturity of the opener.
Indian opener Rohit Sharma made his ODI in 2007. He has gone on to play 180 matches, scored 6954 runs at an average of 44.55, hitting 17 centuries and 34 fifties. He holds the record of highest individual score in ODIs — he scored 264 against Sri Lanka in 2014.
Shikhar Dhawan made his ODI debut after Shehzad in 2010. But he has played 102 matches, scored 4361 runs with 13 hundred and 25 half-centuries at an average of 43.93.
The reason of this huge difference in Shehzad’s and Indian openers’ performances is that the Indian openers concentrate on their game while he remains in the news for other reasons.
Two years back, Shehzad was quoted as saying, “If you look at Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Joe Root, you will see that unlike me, they all got a lot of support.”
The Pakistani batsman, who is known for clicking selfies, again came in the headlines when his dope test came positive during the Pakistan Cup one-day tournament held in April-May in Faisalabad. Now the World Anti-Doping Agency will decide action against the Pakistani opener.
Shehzad can be banned for at least three months for this offence under ICC anti-doping rules and regulations, bearing in mind that this is the first time he has violated the doping law.
In the past, Pakistan cricketers Yasir Shah, Shoaib Akhtar, Muhammad Asif, Abdul Rehman and Raza Hasan have tested positive for dope tests.
But according to a reliable media report, Shehzad used hashish, not drugs. Hashish is illegal in many countries, but it is usually smoked for relaxation not for boosting performance.
In a series against England, in October 2015, Pakistan cricket team’s die-hard fan Muhammad Zaman, who is popularly known as Chacha T20, reportedly demanded an apology from opener Ahmed Shehzad for misbehaving with him in the hotel lobby where the Pakistan team was staying.
Zaman explained that he was in the hotel with his hosts’ son in the UAE. “We went to the hotel just to have a glimpse of Pakistan cricketers and for a chance to take a picture with them, but found only Shehzad in the lobby. I requested him for a picture but he told us to get lost.”
Shehzad denied the quarrel and said he had politely told Zaman that he had to get back to his room because it was late night.
In 2016, Shehzad was fined with fast bowler Wahab Riaz for “inappropriate physical contact” during a match between Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
How many opportunities does he need to prove his talent? How long can the management wait for his form to return?
Waqar Younis during his coaching tenure had a personal session with Shehzad over two days for batting practice with four new balls to prepare him for a pitch that was expected to support fast bowlers. But there was no change in Shehzad’s performance as he stayed on the crease for just 12 minutes before giving a simple catch to slips after scoring one run against Sri Lanka.
In 2015, after World Cup in which he scored 227 runs at an average of 32 with two fifties against Associates, Shehzad was dropped for the tour of Bangladesh.
Misbah and Waqar reportedly suggested to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) that Shehzad and Umar Akmal should be made to play domestic cricket for some time so that they could become disciplined.
Former T20 captain Shahid Afridi, Shahzad’s best supporter for a long time, also finally showed his disappointment with the opener’s efforts.