It is almost 9.30 PM local time in Sydney, Pakistan have mercilessly trashed New Zealand by five wickets to go to the final. At this point, you would assume that the fans are on their way home, right?
The Asian fans are cut from a different cloth, their love is perhaps unheralded to the other cricketing nations. Their criticism too comes out with the same venom and zeal. But the mahool (ambiance) here is one of celebration, as ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ is being blared away at full throttle at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
There is chatter amongst the fans, some talking about India wanting to qualify, some advising against it. It is almost like your cricketing conversation with friends in a nearby tapri. But as the line ‘Aisy Zameen,’ is heard, the crowd stops whatever they are doing, to karaoke along to the melody.
Pakistan, in this edition of the T20 World Cup, have come out with a different vibe. As the lines ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ come along, the crowd goes completely bonkers, as you could feel the Goosebumps around you.
And, the junoon to that jazbaa is none other than Shadab Khan, aka Shady bhai. Shadab is just 24 but his influence on the team has been such that you would naturally levitate to add “experienced” alongside his name.
Shadab essentially is the junoon to Pakistan’s dil.
Babar Azam’s leadership, his charismatic style of captaincy is well-known. But on the other hand, is Shadab, who has bought into the data-driven method. It is a tale of contrasting ideologies but perhaps one that has put Pakistan into a semi-final and a final in two years.
Since the 2018 Pakistan Super League (PSL), Shadab’s role as a batter has grown profound. There are even dressing room stories that the right-hander wanted to take up more responsibility as a batter, hence promoting himself to No.4 during a PSL clash.
If you watch all his interviews closely, you’d realise one thing, he knows how to conduct himself, and more importantly, takes a pause before putting out a heartful opinion, while still mentally calculating diplomacy to an extent. Prior to the tournament, he was tried and tested at No.4, a move that did work out.
But come to the big tournament, he was once again thrown all over the batting order, across frenzied situations. Against India, he walked out at No.5, scoring just five. In the next fixture, he yet again walked out at 5 before being pushed down the order. Two losses into the tournament, the Men in Green found themselves stifled with their backs against the walls.
It is not the ideal brand of cricket that they wanted to play but they needed to do something. At 95/5, with one leg out of the tournament, Pakistan were in desperation to avoid an early flight back home. All hopes were pinned against Shadab’s blade and it roared, just like the fans. Every boundary was met with a whizz in the crowd, a ray of hope in the dressing room.
Iftikhar Ahmed was quick to appreciate and nodded the over-the-extra-cover-six from Shadab as two Pakistani fans in the crowd high-fived each other. But the best was saved for Anrich Nortje, as he slapped him for three sixes across two overs, in the most swashbuckling fashion.
Virat Kohli’s shot will definitely be the shot of the tournament, Suryakumar Yadav had enough crazy shots to be second but amidst all of this, the way Shadab carved Nortje over the third man region for a six was possibly the campaign defining shot. The fans were shell shocked, some even had their hands over their head as the rain trickled down.
Shadab’s campaign could be defined by that one innings, it was what he was as a batter, fearless and yet calculative.
As he himself said in an interview with ESPNCricinfo, the job of an all-rounder has evolved over the years but the basics remained quintessential. The leg-spinner walked into the tournament ten shy of Shahid Afridi’s record for most T20I wickets for Pakistan. The stage was set. All he had to do was be himself.
You know those people who walk into a party and lift the spirits of everyone else. Shadab is one of them. A few years ago, Shadab was one of the easier targets in Pakistan. The fact that his career was riddled with a few injuries, all eyes were on the all-rounder, to see whether he could really lift the spirits of the country. Or in short, would he be the Junoon.
Pakistan’s pace bowling unit is as good as it gets. In fact, some teams can only imagine such a threatening pace attack at their disposal but Pakistan as a country are naturally blessed with bowlers who can make a telling impact. In such a bowling unit, the role of a spinner was only going to be profound.
Carrying the weight of the nation could be daunting, and for a 24-year-old, career-threatening but the ease with which Shadab has seen these times, you would wonder if he is really 24. In the middle-over phase, no spinner in the competition during the Super 12 stage has more wickets than Shadab (11), wherein he also went past Afridi’s tally of 97 wickets.
Sometimes it is easier to forget that Shadab is a wrist-spinner, the riskier breed of the two spinners. But such is his control, it makes people go in awe. His impact doesn’t end there. When not contributing with the bat or the ball, his impact on the field is telling.
His pick-up-and-throw in one motion to dismiss Devon Conway shouldn’t be forgotten that easily.
Amidst all of his batting, fielding and bowling display, the most integral of Shadab’s abilities is buried – his leadership skills – one that almost took them to their second T20 World Cup title. Babar is definitely the captain but Shadab is the contrasting understudy.
While one works perfectly with his instincts, the other slightly nudges ideas backed with data. Cast your mind back to India’s clash against England, at one point during the powerplay, Hardik Pandya lifted the spirits of the Indian players.
Sometimes, it is these small things that go unnoticed.
Shadab is that vocal point in Pakistan’s unit. He naturally lifts the team with his all-round display and when he doesn’t, he waves his hand around to make sure that the field is in the right place. On some occasions, he also asks the captain for an intriguing bowling change, which changes the course of the game.
For all that he is worth, Shadab is more than a gold. He is Pakistan’s beating heart in the Jazbaa-driven cricket ideology. If the fans are screaming Dil Dil Pakistan, the jan jan Pakistan is definitely the 24-year-old Shadab Khan.