By Danyal Rasool, ESPNcricinfo,
Despite England’s loss to West Indies in Southampton, Pakistan opener Shan Masood remains wary of England’s fast-bowling depth ahead of his side’s three-Test series next month. He thinks James Anderson, in particular, will continue to be a big threat.
“Jimmy Anderson is a world-class bowler,” Masood said during a video conference. “By achievements, he’s perhaps the No. 1 fast bowler in the world right now. He carries a threat, of course, and several other England bowlers carry a threat. England’s resource depth is very good. They had few very good bowlers sitting on the bench [during the opening Test], particularly pacers.”
Masood has good reason to be respectful of Anderson. The Pakistan opener has struggled against no other bowler quite as much; in the three Tests that Anderson and Masood have both played, the 37-year-old Englishman has dismissed him in all six innings. His last England tour was particularly unhappy, with Masood managing just 71 runs in four innings; Anderson nicked him off in all four innings.
But that was long ago. Back then, Masood was something of a journeyman in international cricket, drifting into the side from time to time without ever being able to quite nail down a place. Now, he’s among the first names on the team sheet, and as far as personal career fortunes go, few will have enjoyed as dramatic a turnaround as the 30-year old in the past 18 months.
Destined, seemingly, to be a back-up opener on the tour of South Africa in 2018-19, Masood was called up for the Boxing Day Test after a late injury to Haris Sohail. Until then, he had played in just 12 of the 45 Tests Pakistan took part in since his debut, and those 12 came across five different stints. He averaged just 23.54 in that time.
That was the Masood that Anderson had tormented over the years. The Masood of today who walks – no, struts – out to open for Pakistan has averaged a smidge under 45 since that Boxing Day Test, and hasn’t missed any of the eight Test Pakistan have played in that period. Masood has put the past very much where it belongs, and it was a point he didn’t shy away from making.
“You learn from the past and the mistakes you made then, but you also learn not to become fixated on the past,” he said. “You should also know when to move on. Things have changed from 2016. The mistakes we’ve made before we have to learn from, but we have to react to the needs of today. Nothing is constant, and I want to live in the present.
“We have had a fantastic opportunity to prepare. We spent 14 days in Worcester and are going to spend another three weeks in Derby. There’s no need to put myself under extra pressure to say I need to prove this thing or the other. Practice is going well and I understand my game. The outcome isn’t controllable, but I can put in my best effort and keep my attitude positive.
“But while coming here early has allowed us to acclimatise, there is no substitute for match time. In that sense, England have an advantage. But the basics don’t change; we have to figure out how to get 20 wickets, and how to score 300-400 runs in an innings. So our primary focus has to be on our preparations. We have a few advantages too, in that we can analyse their performances and work on their weaknesses. These things balance each other out.”
He lavished praise on interim batting coach Younis Khan, who has joined the side in England, calling him the greatest Test batsman in Pakistan history, and said everyone, including the bowlers, were eager to learn off him.
It shouldn’t, perhaps, be surprising that Younis’ arrival brings back fond personal memories for Masood. Despite a frustrating first few years with the national side where he couldn’t quite nail his place down, one of his cricketing highlights took place while Younis was at the other end. It was 2015, and a series-deciding Test against Sri Lanka, with Pakistan requiring an improbable 377 for victory against the hosts. But having lost two wickets early, Masood would stick around with the current batting coach, striking up a 242-run partnership en route to scoring 125 as Pakistan stormed to a stunning win with seven wickets to spare.
“Younis’s stature is inarguable and his arrival makes a huge difference,” Masood said. “He’s Pakistan’s greatest Test batsman and all batsmen in the side are eager to interact with him and draw on his experiences. The way the guys were playing in Worcester, be it in the nets or the scenario matches, he worked with everyone.
“He even works hard with our bowlers on their batting because in Test cricket, the runs they provide from the lower order are crucial too. Fifty or 60 runs added there could turn the tide of a Test match. We’re having two sessions a day, morning and evening. There’s been a hugely positive impact and we’re looking forward to learning more from him.”
He did caution against slipping into thinking England weren’t quite as strong as was believed before the first Test against West Indies. “We shouldn’t undermine England,” he warned. “This was the same top four that went to South Africa and won a series there. They’re playing at home and they’ll have experience of playing there regardless of whether or not they’ve played international cricket.
“But we have our own strengths, too. If you’re talking about our spinners, we have a world-class spinner in Yasir Shah. Alongside him, we have an allrounder and an able backup in Shadab Khan. So we have more than enough resources if the situation comes down to needing a spinner to lead.”
Main photo: Shan Masood celebrates his hundred (Getty Images)