The past few months have seen some extraordinarily tumultuous events shake the core of Pakistan cricket. Spot-fixing allegations against some established players emerged during the 2017 edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL). The power of this bad news is such that even the historic holding of the final of this prestigious Twenty20 league in Lahore seems to have taken a backseat to the almost daily updates regarding the ongoing investigations into the matter.
Good news, thus, has been in short supply in Pakistan cricket in the recent past, but on Sunday evening and in a matter of a few deliveries, a young man called Shadab Khan from the city that brought us Misbah-ul-Haq - Mianwalli - brought hope and joy to millions of ardent Pakistan supporters.
While his exploits in the first T20I during the current tour of the West Indies weren’t exactly a shock to many experts and fans who had forecast greatness for the 18-year-old leg-spinner, it is true that the way he went about his business on debut was truly eye-opening.
From his confident gait as he took the ball for the first time in the match to the elegance and maturity with which he sent down every delivery during his four overs, whatever doubt anyone had about his abilities disappeared into thin air.
The young debutant delivered four accurate overs in which he dismantled the West Indies top order with aplomb taking three wickets and in the process, became the most economical bowler in a four-over spell on debut in T20Is, as he gave away a miserly seven runs. Shadab thus took the game away from the reigning world champions in a spectacular spell of leg-spin bowling, mixing regular deliveries with a healthy dose of googlies which would have even made the maestro, Shane Warne, smile with joy.
And the Warne reference is no coincidence. Shadab has been a fan of the great Australian leg-spinner from a young age, but the former Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed has also played a big role in the development of this teenager. It is, therefore, no surprise that with Warne as his role model and Mushtaq as his mentor, Shadab is ready to take on the best in the game at the international level.
Like many aspiring young cricketers in Pakistan, Shadab’s journey into cricket started with playing tape-ball cricket in his neighbourhood. His parents were never in favour of him forsaking his studies for the love of the game. It is however possible that they were swayed by the success of another resident of Mianwalli in the shape of Misbah. While the Pakistan Test captain may not have known about the exciting young talent rapidly developing in his hometown, he, like many others, got to understand and admire the talent of Shadab at close quarters recently in the PSL.
Shadab was picked by Islamabad United for their title defence in the second edition of the PSL and within a period of a few weeks became one of the most talked about talents in the country. It was no ordinary achievement for the young man when during the tournament, Wasim Akram, one of the greatest bowlers the world has ever produced, spoke about Shadab’s ability to play for Pakistan in the very near future. As a further testament to Shadab’s skills, even the vastly experienced Dean Jones felt that the youngster had the “head of a 30-year-old”, referring to the maturity in his bowling which went far beyond his age.
With some fantastic performances in some high-octane and close games during the PSL, Shadab was able to impress all with his skills, temperament and maturity. Not satisfied with just being a good bowler, Shadab also presented himself as a genuine all-round prospect for his team with arguably his best all-round performance coming during a nail-biter against Lahore Qalandars in Sharjah. He scored a rapid-fire 42 in just 24 balls in that match, and then picked up the crucial wickets of Umar Akmal and Fakhar Zaman. Unfortunately, his team went on to lose the game but what the world of cricket saw in the confident player that evening was proof enough that a young star was truly in the making.
With nine wickets in a competition labelled by many as the one of the toughest Twenty20 leagues in the world, it was no great surprise that the Pakistan selectors picked Shadab for the preparatory camp for the tour of the West Indies. It was there that Pakistan’s head coach Mickey Arthur had a closer look at what Shadab could do for his country and his selection for the tour became a mere formality. It was as if his success was pre-destined and the young man did not disappoint his fans and admirers on 26 March in Barbados.
The history of Pakistan cricket is littered with many wonderful talents who have flattered to deceive, falling by the wayside as their initial successes have given way to subsequent failures and mediocrity. Many such talented players have fallen by the wayside and disappeared into the abyss of Pakistan domestic cricket.
However in Shadab, Pakistan has found an excellent prospect, a gem, who has the ability to turn games on their head with bat, ball and on the field. With examples of precocious talents such as Umar Akmal who had promised so much in the past, it is important that Shadab is nurtured and guided to continue to fulfil his potential.
There are already calls for his name to be included in the Test side and the pressure to perform again and again will be a tremendous burden on his young shoulders. How Shadab, at the tender age of 18, responds to this pressure will be a supreme test of his temperament and will define how far he will go in his career. If handled correctly and allowed to develop, and judging by his debut, Shadab has all the ingredients to become a big resource for Pakistan.