KARACHI: After England had amassed 444, the touring Pakistan team’s spirits slumped in what was a do-or-die ODI of the five-match series for Azhar Ali’s charges. The batsmen had the onerous task of regaining some semblance of respect with the bat at the Trent Bridge featherbed. Opener Sharjeel Khan was the only one who had the shots to take the attack to the opposition, at least in the top-order.
Up against him was the frighteningly quick Mark Wood bowling at 95 miles per hour but Sharjeel looked least perturbed by pace. As Wood ran in for his ninth over and attacked the southpaw with three short deliveries and a fuller one, Sharjeel seemed completely at ease as he flicked the short ones through the square-leg region before whacking the full one over mid-on with a bout of disdain.
Super Sharjeel grateful for English lessons
Sharjeel sends one to the boundary. PHOTO: AFP
The four balls went for four successive boundaries; Sharjeel’s comfort against the lightening pace achieved after endless hours of practice for the short ball and bouncer in his Hyderabad courtyard bowled at him by his father, Mehmood Khan Alizai was now for the world to see.
“My back foot technique was developed on my marble courtyard, when I was 15. Papa Father former first-class cricketer sussed out a plan, he bowled short balls at me from a distance of 10-12 metres. I used to wear a helmet and learned coping with extra pace and bounce, I was hit many times too but that helped get rid of my fear of the cricket ball,” revealed Sharjeel.
Sharjeel and his father used a special egg-shaped plastic ball for sharpening his reflexes, the ball skids off the marble surface at a rapid pace and also bounces high, helping the batsman learn swaying away from the line besides mastering the pull and hook shots.
Sharjeel Khan in nets.
“The special ball really helped me develop reflexes,” he said. “Once I started going for net practices as a teenager, I used to thrive on playing short balls, even in the nets we used to place a marble slab and make brand new cricket balls skid off at a quick pace. All this practice has come incredibly handy for me and now I feel at ease even against express fast bowlers, in fact I want them to aim for my head.”
‘Worked hard on weaknesses after getting axed in 2014’
While Sharjeel’s bravado against the short ball is indeed a refreshing sight, his technique against pitched up deliveries especially the ones that swing in to him are the ones causing him trouble.
Sharjeel joins Leicestershire for NatWest T20 Blast
Since his comeback though he has tightened up his game and seems to be tackling the line and swing better, but concedes that he has to improve further like he did during his two years in the wilderness.
Sharjeel Khan cuts one against Ireland. PHOTO: AFP
“I still feel that I have to work on my game against the pitched up deliveries, the ones that swing in while I also have to improve on driving the ball through the off-side,” said Sharjeel. “When I was left out of the team in 2014, I realised that bowlers at international level quickly workout your weaknesses with the help of their support staff. I was being dismissed in the same fashion — caught at mid-wicket or mid-on — once I got dropped I went back to the drawing board to eliminate errors with my grip and stance.”
Sharjeel clawed back in contention after an imperious century in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) eliminator against Peshawar Zalmi. His innings took the eventual winners Islamabad United to the final earning the batsman a recall for the Asia Cup T20 and World T20 earlier in the year.
However, Sharjeel attributes his success at the England tour to the preceding A team tour of UK which gave him invaluable experience of the often tricky English conditions.
Utter Khan-age: Sharjeel’s blade slays Ireland
“The tour was a great experience; it was my first tour of the UK, all this while I used to prefer playing in the T20 leagues in Dubai and to be honest, those tournaments were helpful and fairly competitive as well. But playing in the UK is altogether different, you are noticed and after I scored a century against England Lions, I was offered a contract by Essex County,” he explained.
Sharjeel Khan thanks the Almighty for his century. PHOTO: AFP
Eventually, Leicestershire succeeded in winning over the southpaw with an offer which was better compared to the one given by Essex and Sharjeel is eagerly looking forward to donning their colours in next year’s T20 Blast — the English T20 domestic competition.
“I was given a good offer by Leicestershire and it makes me happy that I have made an impression in the UK, next year promises to be even more exciting and I am already looking ahead, but for now my priority is to churn out more runs for my country,” he said.
Really impressed by Mickey Arthur’s knowledge of the game
During the A team tour, Sharjeel was helped by the advice of the head coach Basit Ali who is considered a shrewd cricket brain with a penchant of mostly making correct predictions. Coaches and mentors including Umar Rasheed, Iqbal Imam, Tauseef Ahmed and Grant Flower helped Sharjeel plan his game and training methods but Pakistan’s current head coach Mickey Arthur is the one who has made a big impression on the batsman.
Sharjeel Khan acknowledges the crowd after his century. PHOTO: AFP
“I am really impressed by Arthur’s knowledge of the game,” said Sharjeel. “The England series was my first experience under his coaching and I found him to be a great mentor and guide. He has immense knowledge and reads the game very well and his conduct with the players remained exceptional yet like all professionals he wants us to follow a tough work ethic.”
Hope to carry on good batting form
Sharjeel capped off the UK tour for Pakistan team with a breathtaking, match-winning 107-run opening stand with Khalid Latif to ensure a nine-wicket win for the Men in Green in the one-off T20I game at Old Trafford a fortnight ago. His ODI comeback against Ireland was a special one too as he scored a blistering 152 before the exploits against England.
Pakistan steamroll England in one-off T20I by nine wickets
“I thoroughly enjoyed the century stand with Khalid and the innings against Ireland was fantastic too, since I kept a positive intent and backed my instincts against them, the feeling of scoring my first international century in Pakistan colours was second to none and I really now hope to continue scoring the runs in the series against the West Indies too,” said a hopeful Sharjeel.
Sharjeel Khan raises his bat to the spectators. PHOTO: AFP
Pakistan cricket fans and the rapidly evolving fan club of Sharjeel remain hopeful for more fireworks from the batsman and at least for now the mantra of see the ball, hit the ball is not going to change.
“I play the ball and not the bowler, and if the ball is in my zone, it has to go,” says Sharjeel.
This uncluttered mind set can indeed wreak havoc and bowlers around the world need to watch out!
Here is what Sharjeel and Latif did to England in the one-off T20I
Courtesy : Express Tribune