Shafiq quietly settles in his Gabba homecoming
Merely 41 runs stood between Pakistan and an improbable target hovering below the mammoth 500-run mark but Shafiq was undone by an incredible thunderbolt that jagged off the surface at an awkward length to catch his glove. Four balls later a hyper Yasir Shah was caught short of his crease to put an end to the tourists' resilient fightback heralded by Shafiq, who batted supremely with the tail-enders forging gritty stands along the way.
A lot has changed in Pakistan's Test unit since the fateful Brisbane encounter in 2016 ranging from the retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan to the drama surrounding the appointment and eventual sacking of Sarfaraz Ahmed. But Shafiq's place in the side continues to be clouded in obscurity. He is a permanent presence, a constant fixture who fails to grab the spotlight, partly owing to his inability to churn out daddy hundreds and to a degree due to his reserved personality, while other batsmen become the more recognizable faces among the Pakistan fanbase.
Amidst this backdrop, Shafiq quietly settled into his role as the stabilizer and calmly offered resistance against the rampaging Aussie quicks on the opening day of the first Test. The 33-year-old veteran produced a stellar knock of 76 as wickets tumbled all around him before he found ample support from leg-spinner Yasir. Coincidentally, these two were the chief cause of annoyance for Australia back in 2016 at the Gabba and once again kept the pacers at bay with a sturdy 84-run partnership.
Contrary to the punchy contributions witnessed in South Africa, a more composed Shafiq operated on Thursday as he curbed his attacking instincts to smartly farm the strike with Yasir. On a day where Babar Azam perished off an extravagant drive having been suckered in by a floater from Josh Hazlewood, Shafiq repudiated the need for aggressive strokeplay to make slow progress.
Shafiq raises his bat after reaching his fifty ©Getty Images
Shafiq was batting at 18 off 55 balls when Mohammad Rizwan, arguably last of the specialist batsmen, fell. By then, he had already played two of the most elegant shots of the day - a gentle push down the ground off Pat Cummins and a glossy cover drive to his nemesis Starc. Shafiq soon picked up the scoring rate but refrained from reckless hitting to instead focus on astutely piercing the gaps. He gradually grew in confidence and hammered a superb pull shot off Hazlewood to assert his dominance.
While Australia skipper Tim Paine may be guilty of letting Shafiq continue his merry run with the introduction of part-time spinner Marnus Labuschagne to keep the over-rate in check, he cashed in on the opportunity to bring up a fine half-century. Fluency rarely evaded the bat of the Karachi-born cricketer though he had to again bear with the loss of partners when Yasir and Shaheen Afridi were dismissed off consecutive deliveries as soon as Starc opted for the new ball. He himself departed in the next over when Cummins sent in an extraordinary ball that breached his defences, leaving much to be desired and drawing parallels with the 'almost-heist' at the Gabba three years ago.
For a bloke who batted at No. 6 for a major part of his career and surpassed Sir Gary Sobers' record of most number of centuries in that position, Shafiq admitted he learned to shepherd the tail from his past experiences. "I used to bat at No. 6 and I got this experience to bat with the tail. Two-three wickets fell quickly but I was adamant at trying to build a partnership in the middle because I knew that would help the team and allow us to post a respectable total," he later told reporters.
Despite his batting heroics, Shafiq seems to be forever condemned to the supporting role in the team in terms of the ballyhoo. Although he scored the same number of runs as his teammate Babar across the two tour games, all the attention was centered on the 25-year-old. Unfazed by the perception of being 'underrated', Shafiq said: "I am not concerned whether my contributions are underplayed or I am underrated. I feel honoured to play for Pakistan and don the national jersey. And this is the only appreciation I need."
These words aptly describe Shafiq, the cricketer, and his introvert disposition as he solemnly serves his country.