Can Abdullah Shafique Eclipse 50% of Imran Butt’s Career Runs in One Innings?

“Shan Masood was picked when he didn’t deserve to be in the side and now has been dropped when he has progressed enough,” Dr Nauman Niaz.

Whatever your thoughts might be about the PTV Sports chief, this assessment makes a lot of sense. 

Initially, when Shan Masood was selected, it seemed evident that some strings have been pulled somewhere. Dr Nauman Niaz admitting that he was requested by a high ranked official to give the left-hander “exposure” gave more credence to this theory. It’s Pakistan…that’s how things roll.

But on the field results barring one marvellous innings in Sri Lanka, it showed. “Shaani” was exposed home and away by Jimmy Anderson and others, and duly dropped. Yet the stories about the man boy in Kuwait never stopped appearing on media. Even the biggest cricket website kept telling us about the improvements he has made with the help of the best coaches in the world. Astonishingly, some claimed that he was dropped because he was seen as a threat to the team’s captain, given his background.

From 2013 to 2017, there were numerous comebacks, all resulting in relative failure. Before finally in late 2018, the left hander seemingly cracked the code. In five tests in South Africa and Australia, on pitches Pakistani batters find most troubling, Shan Masood looked at home. Three fifties in 5 matches and just one score in single digits showed that the demons of the past had been buried.

Another hundred at home was followed by a dominating 156 against his former nemesis, that chap Jimmy. Pakistan’s opening “crisis” resolved, right?

Well, wrong.

Facing up to some of the top bowlers in the world in favourable conditions, Shan struggled in four tests. Either getting a peach or twice being caught on the leg side. But surely for an opener who has succeeded in England, South Africa and Australia, Pakistan would show patience.

Well, wrong again.

Chief Selector Mohammad Wasim picked Imran Butt. He was the leading scorer in the most recent QEA Trophy, so it made sense. However, that was a simplistic assessment and ignored something significant. Apart from that one season, the opener had averaged low to mid 20s for the past three seasons. Remarkably, the only season Imran Butt had succeeded was when just under 80 centuries in 30 matches.

How did those first-class form translate into international cricket? Well, catastrophic, shambolic, disastrous, you pick the adjective.
In six matches against South Africa, West Indies and Zimbabwe, the right hander averaged 17.

Historically, amongst the Pakistani openers who played at least 6 matches, Butt was 4th worst behind Naushad Ali, Saleem Elahi, Rizwan uz Zaman. Players who averaged higher than Imran Butt include bowlers like Rana Naveed, Sohail Khan, Tahir Naqqash and Wasim Akram.

To compound matters, of the two times Butt’s passed 15, it came against Zimbabwe and against West Indies setting up a total after opposition had thrown in the towel.

Take out that 91 against Zimbabwe and his average drops to 10. The only opener with a lower average than 10 was Shafiq Ahmed with 8. Although, he did average 50 in first class cricket, so there was merit in giving him a run. For context, that 10 run average is lower than that of Saqlain Mushtaq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Mohammad Amir, Shahid Nazir, Saaed Ajmal, Fazl-e-Akbar, Yasir Shah, Iqbal Qasim, Fazal Mahmood, Abdur Rehman, Hasan Ali, Saleem Altaf, Abdul Qadir, Sarfaraz Nawaz and Zulfiqar Babar (Minimum 4 tests)
After wasting a run of relatively easier tests, Butt was inevitably dropped. Despite protest from a certain section who demanded that he should be played on as a fielder.

Unfortunately, you would be hard pressed to find an opener who played after averaging 17 in 6 matches in the 140 odd year history of test cricket.

In his last six test matches, Shan Masood had scored at an average 28 with two hundreds. Despite the obvious slump, Masood was 11 runs ahead of Butt. So that clearly did not work.

His replacement Abdullah Shafique, who many claim is the next big thing of Pakistan batting, has scored 29% of Butt’s career runs in one innings. He is still not out, and the world is his oyster…if the world was all about bettering Imran Butt’s record.

For the team’s and Shafiq’s sake, one would hope he has bigger targets in sight.

Asjad Khan

While a minimalist at heart, AK is expansive with his words. Always on the lookout for things to write about, he is most interested in finding narratives in cinema and sports stories.

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