Saud Shakeel: Pakistan’s left-handed Cheteshwar Pujara, who puts prize on his wicket

Twelve years ago, Azam Khan, a coach at Karachi’s Pakistan Cricket Club (PCC) brought a chubby 15-year-old Saud Shakeel to the nets. Sarfaraz Ahmed and Asad Shafique were shocked when Khan instructed Saud to pad up and get ready to face Anwar Ali, an international speedster known to bowl in high 140 kph.

A concerned Sarfaraz couldn’t hold himself , he asked Khan “Aap kya kar rahe ho? Yeh bachha hai ball lag jayegi (What are you doing? He is a kid, he will get hurt). To which Khan replied: “Isko bat karte dekho, ek din yeh Pakistan ke liye khelega (You watch him bat, one day he will play for Pakistan).

Khan was spot on. Shakeel played for Pakistan. Not just that he got his Test cap from Sarfaraz Ahmed, his mentor and the former Pakistan captain was at the non-striker end when he notched up his maiden Test century on Wednesday in Karachi. He also impressed experts with his temperament, they called him the real deal. A stubborn batsman, known to play the waiting game, the 27-year-old old school batsman is now being compared to India’s Test specialist Cheteshwar Pujara.

“He has done the hard yards in domestic cricket. He should have played a couple of years earlier but never got the chance. Now he is replying to all his critics with his runs,” Khan told The Indian Express from Karachi.

After the day’s play, Shakeel was asked why he always wanted to score his maiden Test century at Karachi. “My first-class century was also in Karachi. I always wanted to score my International ton at this venue only. With Saifi bhai at the other end, it eases my nerves,” he replied.

In his brief career so far, Saud has shown his gritty defence and his capability of tackling pressure and scoring vital runs when the team is in a difficult position. Four of his five Test fifties have come in the second innings. He single-handedly took Pakistan to victory against England in the Multan Test. Saud was on 94 when he gloved a Mark Wood delivery down the leg side and Ollie Pope dived to his right to collect the ball. On-field umpire Aleem Dar adjudged the batsman caught behind in his soft signal before referring the decision to TV umpire Joel Wilson. Replays could not confirm if it was a clean catch, and the original decision was upheld at a critical point in the see-saw contest.

Muhammad Masroor, who was Karachi U-19 (now Sindh) coach recalled when he first time saw the chubby teenager and after watching him play, he made him captain straightaway.

“What impressed me the most was his composure. His ability to play long. I have heard about him from my fellow coaches but when I saw him the first time my first reaction was ‘In this T20 frenzy generation, there is an old-fashioned cricketer, who loves to put prize on his wicket.’ I even asked him what do you like the most, he said ‘spending time at the crease,” shares Masroor.

Interestingly, when Masroor was doing his level III course, his first project was Saud Shakeel.

“From ICC there were 15 coaches at the PCB headquarters. My project was Saud Shakeel. The NCA head asked me ‘why I picked Saud as my project and how do I rate him?’ I told him ‘ He will play his first-class cricket for Karachi next year, and will play Pakistan U-19 also. Then the NCA head quizzed me ‘Am I sure about that because I have never heard his name?’ I was sure about it and told him ‘Mark my words he will play for Pakistan as well,’” recalls Masroor.

Next year in 2014, Saud was picked for Pakistan U-19 World Cup, where played alongside Sami Aslam and Imam-ul-Haq. Sami and Imam went on to play for Pakistan and Said went back to the domestic grind. He made his first-class debut in October 2015 for Karachi Whites in the 2015–16 Quaid-e-Azam (QeA) Trophy before moving to Pakistan Television (PTV) in 2017.

He kept scoring runs but those big daddy hundreds were not coming. But from 2019, things changed. Since the start of 2019, no Pakistan batsman has made more First Class runs (2593) at a better average (63.24) than him. He ended the 2020/21 QeA Trophy as the second-highest run-getter (970 runs at 57.1, including three centuries). He received his maiden call-up to Pakistan’s Test squad for their home series against South Africa. Saud was a part of Pakistan’s Test squads for the West Indies and Bangladesh tours in 2021 but never played. In 2020-21, he was handed the captaincy of Sindh, he backed up his previous season by scoring 754 runs at a brilliant average of 68.54, including four hundreds in 12 innings.

“It took him some time, but now he has arrived and you will see more of Saud Shakeel in the coming years,” says Masroor, who also rates his fielding very highly.

Saud led Sindh to the National T20 Cup, earlier this year but Masroor says his ward’s game is not suited for the game’s shortest format.

“How can I define Saud? He is like Pujara (Cheteshwar), he puts prize on his wicket. He will tire the bowlers. He will not throw away his wicket but no he is not a T20 cricketer although he led Sindh to the title. His game is more suited to Test and a perfect No 4 for the ODIs, where he can rotate the strike easily. He is very good against spin, there is no better sweeper of the ball in Pakistan than Saud, but when it comes to T20 cricket I have my reservations,” says Masroor.

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