Shoaib Malik: A 20-Year-Long Journey
Jack of all trades, master of none; no one fits the bill as perfectly as Shoaib Malik does. A career spanning almost two decades began in the form of an off-spinner and culminated [in ODI cricket] as one of the most dependable batsman in the shorter versions of the game that Pakistan has ever had.
A water-tight defence backed by some handsome horizontal bat shots and lofted drives make the man from Sialkot a spectator’s delight. Most part of his career though has been a game of musical chairs as far as his batting number was concerned. He has flirted with every batting position – from 1 to 10. A solid opener, a dependable number 3, a workman middle order bat and a manufactured slogger, he has seen it all. In the Subcontinent, he walks on thin ice and away from the ice becomes thinner for him to dwell upon – a common consensus amongst the cricketing experts on Shoaib. But criticism has hardly had its ways against the cocooned and soft-spoken Malik.
A 17-year-old Shoaib Malik debuted against West Indies in October 1999. His bowling style was a mirror motion picture of Saqlain Mushtaq and he scalped 2 wickets in his first game. But with time, batting took precedence, and the first time he was promoted to number 4 in the batting order, Shoaib grabbed the bull by its horns and got a hundred against West Indies at Sharjah. A couple of games later, he was asked to open and he vindicated the move with a splendorous ton against the Kiwis at Lahore.
The bowling though continued to add to his dimension but received a jolt in 2004, when he was reported for a suspect action, only to be cleared after a few months. His batting though was enough a reason in the shorter formats to keep his place despite losing a bit of his potency thanks to his remodelled action.
Shoaib’s love for India is second to none. His three top scores in ODIs are all against India. The standouts being – 143 in 2004 at Colombo, Sri Lanka in an Asia Cup game and a majestic 128, where he literally ‘cut’ his way through the Indian bowling attack to dismantle them in a Champions Trophy game in 2009 at Centurion. No wonder his ODI average against India is almost 50 compared to his career average which is in the mid 30s.
His performance in the whites was a lot to be desired and didn’t really seem convincing. He debuted in 2001 in Tests and after sparring appearances retired in late 2015 against England. He had come back to the Test team after almost 5 years and celebrated that with a double hundred in his comeback Test. But he decided to hang his boots after the third Test, saying he wanted to focus completely on the shorter formats. A double ton and a couple of ducks in his swansong series talk a lot about the oscillation of inconsistency that he was as a Test performer.
His greatest moment as a Test player though was a dogged 148* off 369 balls against Sri Lanka in 2006, where he batted an entire day to save the day for Pakistan. That was the first of the three tons he scored in the whites in his 35 appearances. An average of 35.14 to end with was a major disappointment for someone who had the resolve, technique and the shots to succeed in the premier format of the game.
Malik’s tryst as a skipper was mostly under heavy weather in his 18-month period as the ODI captain and was sacked in January 2009 after a humiliating loss to Sri Lanka at Lahore. Though the late Bob Woolmer always held his cricketing brain in high regards, Malik never could gel well with other senior members of the team during his tenure as reported by many sections of the media. He was banned by the PCB for a year after the disastrous 2009-10 tour to Australia for his rift with the senior players. The ban though was revoked after a few months.
His T20 exploits are well documented and he led Pakistan to the finale in the inaugural T20 WC in 2007 and was a key member of the T20 WC triumph in 2009 in England. Though he was out of favour for the ODIs for a period of 2 years after the Champions Trophy in 2013, it has never been the case in the shortest format. He played for Karachi Kings and Multan Sultans in the PSL, and also participated in the BBL and CPL for Hobart Hurricanes and Barbados Tridents respectively.
He was dropped from the ODI side after a poor campaign for Pakistan in the 2013 Champions Trophy but once he made a comeback post the 2015 World Cup, his average and strike rates swelled up.
Shoaib made his debut for Pakistan in 1999 and considering his high-profile stature in Pakistan cricket one would have assumed that he would have featured in at least three or four World Cups so far. But the fact is he has only represented Pakistan twice in World Cups and that was in the disastrous 2007 campaign and in 2019. In 2007, He was probably one of the only shining light in Pakistan’s campaign as he scored a blistering 62 off 54 balls in the opening match against West Indies. However, his contribution didn’t prove to be enough as Pakistan ended up on the losing side.