Mohammad Shahzad is a true entertainer. By his own admission, he plays to entertain the Afghan people, who despite dealing with a lot of hardships always back the team enthusiastically. Whether victory or defeat, the royalties do not change. And Shahzad feels his attacking approach is just a token of gesture towards this loyal fan base of Afghanistan cricket.
Yes, at times Shahzad’s boundary-or-nothing batting approach seems unreliable. His knack for taking unnecessary risks often puts his team under pressure. But when it comes off, Shahzad makes his presence felt, big time.
No coach in the world will suggest the high-risk cricket, which this Afghan opener plays. In the 2015 World Cup, then Afghanistan coach Andy Moles preferred Afsar Zazai ahead of Shahzad in the squad because he believed on those big Australian grounds the ‘hit out or get out’ approach would not have clicked.
Three-and-a-half years later, Moles is no longer around in Afghan cricket, but Shahzad continues to play at his own way, like a carefree man, who doesn’t have anything to worry about. He just wants to enjoy his time out in the middle. Tuesday’s knock against India has been a classic testament of this mindset.
Out of the 124, the 30-year old scored a high percentage of his runs (69.35 to be exact) through boundaries. Though towards the end of his knock, he was cramping and struggling with his lower back. So, he was not being able to run. However, even under normal circumstances, he feels taking singles is boring.
“One man takes six singles in six balls. He tires himself out, he tires his partner out. I try to score those six runs in one ball. Neither do I get tired, nor my partner,” Shahzad had this explanation to offer when recently asked about his carefree approach at the crease by ESPNCricinfo.
Shahzad’s batting approach is pretty simple. Watch the ball closely, middle one or two, then go after what is within your reach and defend or leave what isn’t. There is nothing in between. And that’s what he did against India.
However, here one must feel, with a little bit of added temperament, Shahzad can have far more consistency as a batsman. Like Virender Sehwag, he has excellent hand-eye coordination. He reads the length early and gets into a hitting position quickly. But instead of going all guns blazing right from the start, he can add a little more patience to his game. Perhaps, controlled aggression is the way forward for him.
Well, while writing these suggestions, I am very much aware that Shahzad won’t change his style of play. And just to keep the Afghan spirit alive in the cricket field, perhaps we should let him express himself.