Asia Cup 2018: Can Mohammad Shahzad do a Sanath Jayasuriya for Afghanistan?
Mohammad Shahzad is not just a cricketer, he is a performer. He knows when to get the act going and when the TV cameras have him in focus. He likes to create memories on a cricket field and that’s what was his intent when he came out to bat against India on Tuesday.
“I knew they had new bowlers today, I knew it was my day and I targetted them,” the burly opener said nonchalantly during an interview in the mid-innings break.
Shahzad’s batting has the kind of purpose, which lifts a team like Afghanistan, who have to depend on modest resources while locking horns with the big boys of international cricket. The wicket-keeper batsman’s ability to clear the in-field at will helps him provide good momentum at the top of the order in a team which mostly consists of grafters in the middle-order.
Shahzad’s cavalier batting style helps the Afghans put up fighting totals while batting first and that gives the mystery spinners a chance to stymie the opposition like they did against India.
The knock against India was his first century against a top cricketing nation. In the process, he also became his team’s most prolific run-getter, getting past senior statesman Mohammad Nabi, who too played a decent hand in Dubai against India.
Shahzad started his international 50-over career with a bang, scoring two back to back centuries. But his reputation as an impact player at the top of the order was established after he started opening the innings for his team. The year 2018 has been Shahzad’s most prolific in one-day international cricket and that comes as good news for the Afghans, who will be making their second ICC World Cup appearance in 2019 in England.
The slam-bang batting style of Shahzad’s is pretty similar to that of Sanath Jayasuriya, who had changed the fortunes of Sri Lankan cricket in the mid-1990s. Jayasuriya had taken 34 innings to score his first ODI fifty, but the southpaw came into his own once he was handed the responsibility of opening the innings.
His ability to clear the in-field and pick up length deliveries saw him devastate bowling attacks on placid sub- continental tracks. His knocks at the top of the order allowed the likes of Chaminda Vaas and Mutiah Muralitharan put pressure on the opposition while bowling.
Shahzad could just have a similar impact for the Afghans who have the bowling arsenal to trouble the top sides in the world, as they showed in the Asia Cup. What he needs is a bit more composure, so that he can stay in the middle longer and have the kind of impact on the innings as he had against India.
Afghanistan’s rise has been one of cricket’s most inspirational stories since the Islanders took world cricket by storm in 1996. While Sri Lanka seems to be fading away now and several other top teams going through a transitional phase in limited overs cricket, the time is right for Afghanistan to create a niche for themselves.