Superstar Shehzad walks the walk
In some galaxy no doubt resides Ahmed Shehzad as its biggest star. In that place, videos of him getting new haircuts from Chris Gayle are box office. Videos of him broody and pensive as he drives down a scenic highway are art. In that place he doesn't just talk exactly like Shahid Afridi, he is Shahid Afridi and probably even bigger. Forget Afridi, in that place he is Virat Kohli. No, not even Virat Kohli - in that place Shehzad is a combination of modern celebrity: a movie star, an elite athlete, a social media virus and a philosopher.
A disclaimer: this galaxy may well exist, just that it is not necessarily the one we inhabit. In this one, for now, no player so far from superstardom has looked so ready for it, no player has worn superstardom as snugly without actually being a superstar; such a superstar is he that he pulls off perfectly the "I'm-tired-of-superstardom" look like no other.
He speaks in the lingo of superstars. Soon after helping Quetta Gladiators beat Peshawar Zalmi in Sharjah, for instance, he was talking about how Chris (Gayle, in case you wondered) told him to believe in himself before the tournament, or the advice KP gives him and the tips he sometimes gives them back - about Asian conditions.
There isn't anything wrong with that. They are team-mates of his, and the very point of a PSL or a CPL is to encourage this kind of trading of ideas and passing of wisdom. But it is also clear that this is the conversation that he sees himself a part of, where Kevin and Chris and he are, you know, part of one gang. This is the company he wants to be associated with, but which his career so far frankly precludes him from being in.
See also how often he namedrops Virat Kohli in interviews, including in his latest, in which Kohli is used as an example of someone who was given the right kind of support through rough patches. And the implication is that he, Ahmed Shehzad, was given the wrong kind of support when he went through his rough patch and that perhaps, but for the lack of support… well.
He does talk a terrific game, although it's also accurate to say simply that he talks. There was a moment from a game during the league stages where he is giving an interview on the sidelines, and the broadcast switches to a shot of Pietersen and Luke Wright sitting on the players' balcony pleading with him to stop talking and it is unclear whether they are laughing with him or at him. This is the thing: sometimes his game seems the least compelling aspect of him.
With some relief it is then, that his batting in three out of Quetta's last four games has lived up to his persona, which says plenty about how good it has been. He has always hit the ball sweetly, but it has seemed sweeter in this little run because he has been finding gaps. Last night in Sharjah, though it was the most emphatic innings of the three, it was still not as efficient as you might want in this age (10 dot balls from 38) but with a kind of vehemence in his hitting that has been rare.
It matched the setting: a full house in Sharjah, a high profile, high-stakes game, and a genuine superstar to give him company through much of it. He looked completely at home, not least in his blitzing of Afridi. That was a nice touch, a little sub-heading battle that Shehzad won.
"It was like every other game," he said of it later, when it clearly wasn't. Else he would not have been out of the Pakistan side for nearly a year now. "I was very clear about my game. Trying to get back to the game that I had before."
That game that he had before has not always been as explosive as this (though he does, we should remind ourselves, have Pakistan's only T20I hundred and more T20 hundreds than any other from his country). He meant more that he was trying to get over the last 12 to 18 months, which, he spent "under a lot of pressure, on field, off field".
"I don't want to get too deep into that. But it was very tough, I took all the pressure on myself, didn't blame anyone. Even after I was dropped, I took it on myself, became disciplined and just worked hard, put my head down, put in the hours."
Later on the field he was in his element too. He was in the middle of most team discussions and celebrations, an expressive presence. He made sure the cameras couldn't ignore him, as when he dived headlong - instead of sliding - to pull back a ball that still had about six feet to go to the boundary. He took flight in the circle to one shot that went comfortably enough above him to not remotely be a chance, a man ever ready with a grand but empty gesture.
Nothing about his batting was empty though, and with it, for a while, his galaxy became ours as well.
Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo