Shoaib Malik - A Career Unfulfilled?
A star in limited-overs cricket, Shoaib Malik’s Test innings hasn’t seen much success even as he ended his ODI career on the sidelines of the World Cup.
A star in limited-overs cricket, Shoaib Malik’s Test innings hasn’t seen much success even as he ended his ODI career on the sidelines of the World Cup.(Photo: AP)

Shoaib Malik - A Career Unfulfilled?

As I get ready to leave for a family friend’s wedding, I decide to check the game on TV for one last time. The Sri Lankan batsmen are manoeuvring the ball for ones and twos in pursuit of 197 runs to win against Pakistan.

Kalu (Kaluwitharana) will win it for the Islanders,” my brother says to me before storming out of the room in a huff.

I look at him and turn off the TV.

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The next thing I know, I am greeted at the gate by my sister after 2-3 hours who tells me that the game was tied. I look at her in disbelief thinking she is only rubbing salt into the wounds. The year is 1999 and there is no way to counter-check her claim. The coverage of the game is long finished and mobile phones and internet haven’t quite made their way into Pakistani households yet.

The night is long, but, the wait is longer.

As soon as I get up in the morning, I run out and check the headlines in a local newspaper. The game had, indeed, ended in a tie. The news report is full of praises for Abdul Razzaq and a 17-year-old kid, Shoaib Malik. That is my first memory of the latter; reading about his heroic effort in the field in a newspaper.

Shoaib Malik had made his international debut only a day before, against the West Indies, before Pakistan decided to take him on an emotional rollercoaster. With Sri Lanka needing only 1 run to win off 7 balls with two wickets in hand, Shoaib Malik did what many could have only dreamt of at that stage. He aimed at one stump while running in from square of the wicket and hit it with perfection to keep Pakistan alive in the game.

That was it.

That was the moment he won the hearts of millions of Pakistani fans.

It took him two years from there on to win his first Man-of-the-match award. A superb hundred while rescuing the team from a disastrous start against the West Indies spoke volumes of his batting ability.

In Shoaib Malik, Pakistan felt that they had finally found a more reliable version of Shahid Afridi. He was someone who could bat as the situation demanded of him and could roll his arm for off-breaks when the team needed him to.

And soon followed the knock that was one for the ages.

Pakistan had just lost the Test and ODI series at home to India in April 2004. Shoaib Malik’s performance with the bat was absolutely poor to say the least. In five ODI innings against the arch-rivals, he was averaging 29.25 thanks to a 65 n.o. in the fifth ODI that had also ended in a losing cause.

On the back of a short stint of failures, here he was, facing the arch rivals again in an all-important Indo-Pak clash in the Asia Cup at Colombo in July 2004.

Promoted to bat at number 3, he came in the second over of the innings and scored 143 at a strike rate of 112.59.

Eventually, he ended up scoring half the team’s total and ensuring it was too much for India to chase. Pakistan won the match by 59 runs.

Malik brimmed with more and more confidence as the days passed. On the international scene, he scored some useful runs for his team and picked up handy wickets and while doing so he also led Sialkot Stallions, the six-time domestic T20 champions, from the front.

He had been tipped by many as the future of Pakistan’s limited-overs cricket. But a slump in his batting form meant that all eyes were on him now. Suddenly, the knives had come out. And even though, he was still scoring here and there, his batting form had become a cause of concern for many. His career had looked all but over, but, somehow, he managed to stay relevant in the news by playing and performing in various global T20 competitions.

And finally when he was given a chance to stage a comeback after the World Cup 2015 debacle, he made the most of it.

For two years (2015-2017), he remained Pakistan’s best ODI batsman statistically in the line-up.

For context, his career batting average reads 34.55 but during the aforementioned period, he averaged 53.12 with the bat.

He was a part of the team that won the Champions Trophy 2017. After the team’s win, it had emerged that Shoaib Malik had given the team a dressing-down when it lost its first game to India in a lop-sided contest. This, according to the team management and players, motivated the team to perform to the best of its ability.

Shoaib Malik runs with Mohammad Amir and Shoaib Maqsood during a Pakistan training camp where Amir was making a comeback after serving a five-year ban.
Shoaib Malik runs with Mohammad Amir and Shoaib Maqsood during a Pakistan training camp where Amir was making a comeback after serving a five-year ban.
(Photo: AP)

However, despite having made a solid name for himself in the limited-overs cricket, it is perplexing how he was never trusted to be a regular part of the Test team. Perhaps, he and the team management realised it straightaway that he was more suited to the limited-overs formats.

And there is no better stat than the one that shows the disparity between his records in different formats of the game. To understand what value he brought to Pakistan’s limited-overs side, one has to look at his numbers in the ODI and T20 formats.

Shoaib Malik has accumulated almost 10,000 runs in limited-overs cricket whereas he has scored just 1,800 runs in 35 Test matches for Pakistan.

Around the time he was trying to cement his place in the ODI side in 2015, his Test career was hanging by a thread. It’s a shame how a 14-year Test career has got nothing to show of significance. Nothing can sum up the irony of his Test career than the fact that the only match in which he came good against England and scored 245, his team narrowly escaped a defeat.

As useful a utility as he was in the ODIs, he was the exact opposite of it in Test cricket.

Of his total nine centuries in One-Day cricket, seven resulted in wins for Pakistan. He averaged close to 45 than his career average of 34. And of his total three centuries in Test cricket, none resulted in a win. His batting average in the Test matches that Pakistan won was 25 as compared to his career Test batting average of 35.

With his retirement from the ODIs ends a chapter in Pakistan cricket which will forever be associated with ‘what ifs’. His fans will argue that he was a handy cricketer who turned the game on its head on many occasions and played a huge part in mentoring the likes of Babar Azam, Imam Ul Haq and Fakhar Zaman whereas his naysayers will always say that he lacks both the numbers and the big moments in all formats of the game.

(The writer is a sports journalist based in Pakistan. He tweets @HumayounAK)

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