July 3, 2017

'My performances reflect why I've had a stop-start career'

Opener Shan Masood blames his inconsistent batting for the spells he has spent out of the Pakistan team

"I am working on learning to cut, trying to play with soft hands, rotating the strike" © Getty Images

You have played ten Tests so far. What's your assessment of your career?
I don't think I am satisfied with what I have achieved so far. My career has been stop-start, but I can make as many excuses as I like. A good player fights and gets out of adverse circumstances. Fine, I never got more than two Tests at a stretch, but it was up to me the way I got the start. I feel there were small mistakes I could have mended. That 40 I got against New Zealand could have been a fifty. The 75 against South Africa could have been converted into a century - a hundred on debut would have been a different story. At Old Trafford I was feeling my best and was unbeaten at 30. The next morning started well with two boundaries, but then I played a loose shot.

Had all those 30s, 40s and 70s been converted, it would be a different record - two fifties and two hundreds. I could have been at ease. If you have two hundreds and six fifties in your first nine matches, it could have made a big difference.

Even if I had scored 40s regularly, I might have been in a different position. I am working hard now and want to regain my place. It's not just about scoring runs in domestic cricket but being a better and more reliable batsman for Pakistan.

Your century in Pallekele in July 2015, after coming into the side for the third Test, had every ingredient that selectors look for in a batsman. But then you got dropped after playing the first two Tests against England in October that year.
I don't want to make excuses. My performances are the true reflection of why I have had an inconsistent selection. That Pallekele Test I was playing after a gap of seven months, and it went well only because I had toured Sri Lanka with the A team before the national team went there. Even when I got only 13 in the first innings, I felt good. And then in the second innings, I got a chance to rectify my mistakes and it went well.

But then there was a gap of three months before the next series against England. I didn't really get any serious games to compete. I felt that even luck wasn't with me during those freakish dismissals. Once, [in the first innings in Abu Dhabi] the ball went onto the stumps after hitting the helmet. Then [in the second innings] the bottom edge skidded onto the stumps.

In the next game, I think I played a quality innings, scoring a fifty in the first session. It was a tough pitch to bat on, but I held on and scored 54 at a strike rate of 60 or so. If not for a lapse in concentration after lunch, I could have put pressure to play the third Test. But naturally Azhar Ali, the main opener, was set to return and I was not only dropped from the playing XI but also sent back home.

I felt bad that I had played an extraordinary innings for Pakistan and now all of a sudden I was out. I pushed myself in domestic cricket to score runs. I think I was overthinking the whole thing and that's why I wasn't able to score in domestic cricket as well. If after Pallekele I had got an opportunity in a week or so, I could have scored more heavily because I had that momentum with me.

James Anderson has dismissed Masood six times in three Tests, in the UAE and in England © Getty Images

How tough was it for you to adapt to Pakistan's cricketing culture after spending six years living and playing in the UK?
It's not like if you are educated then you are automatically intelligent. In my upbringing, I was taught to treat people on merit. My family achieved everything starting off as a middle-class family.

See, it's already not normal in our society for someone coming from a privileged background to take up cricket professionally. So it was my responsibility to adapt in every dressing room I go to, from junior level to national level. At the age of 13, I came from a very well protected environment to a different environment and interacted with a different set of players who came from different backgrounds. I was taking a break from school for the Under-15 trials, which was a completely different environment for me. But my education and upbringing helped me adapt.

Your father is part of the PCB governing body and you come from an influential background. Did this help you in your cricket career?
People do say things like I am in the national team because of my influential background, but it's not true. I never asked for shortcut and neither did my family. My path, if you follow it, started from youth cricket to now. I never got a head start through a jump. If I have strong backing, why have I been dropped and why has my career been so stop-start?

Do you think it's added pressure on you because you not only have to prove that you are a good batsman but you also have to prove that you have been selected without undue recommendation?
It discouraged me at the start of my career, but I have to shut these things out and focus on my cricket. When I look back, I see I worked hard to make it to the top. It's painful to be called "sifarshi" [one who comes with a bureaucratic recommendation] because it's not right. I should be judged on my cricket and as a cricketer.

Where do you think it went wrong for you? Was it being dominated by James Anderson last summer in England?
I was playing Anderson just as a bowler who is the No. 1 bowler in the world. Like Dale Steyn troubled Mohammad Hafeez, Josh Hazlewood had Hashim Amla, Anderson had the world's best batsmen in Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar. You have to accept it and move on. If you look closely at the modes of dismissal, you can easily say that some of them actually went in favour of Anderson, especially in the UAE.

"A good player fights and gets out of adverse circumstances. Fine, I never got more than two Tests at a stretch, but it was up to me the way I got the start" © AFP

Misbah-ul-Haq said dropping you was to protect your career.
For me, Misbah was an exemplary role model. But I would say that the Anderson thing wouldn't be fixed by dropping me. There was one solution: that I go back and score runs and do not get out against Anderson. I respect that Misbah bhai said that my career was to be protected because I was very young, but I had set my heart on playing the Birmingham Test because I was not defeated inside and I wanted to score.

How did you adapt your game - you played school cricket in England and then went to first-class cricket in Pakistan.
If you look at the evolution of my career, I was very limited. I had two or three strokes, which actually helped because your discipline is good that way. That is what I learnt in England. But when I came to Pakistan, I had to increase my range to stay relevant in domestic cricket. I tried to score fast and went extreme with that. There were innings where I scored 97 off 99 balls in a four-day match. I pushed myself hard to remodel my game, but then I realised that it has to be a slow process and that I have to find a middle ground. So now I have not only enhanced my range of shots but have also become more productive. You have to be selective and mark your best scoring areas. I have finally found a mode where I feel comfortable. It might not be English anymore, but there are components I extracted from there, like discipline.

I am working on learning to cut, trying to play with soft hands, rotating the strike. We in Pakistan either score in the first gear or sixth gear. The thing I learned from England is rotation. Sometimes it feels boring that they are scoring singles, but it's a good symbol of a good batsman who knows how to drive a single. In Test cricket you have to learn it because the fielders are mainly at the back and there are a lot of scoring opportunities. In Pallekele, I remember I hit a boundary at 62 and then at 96 I hit a six. In between, I didn't hit a boundary but kept rotating the strike.

Why aren't you playing other formats? You are being tagged as a long-form batsman.
I took a significant step last year and started scoring runs in the one-day format as well. To break a perception, I need to be doing something extraordinary. This tag will fade away when I have runs under my belt. I believe I can do it, otherwise I couldn't be playing the format. What I am looking at is how I can be a better cricketer. Things will happen on their own when I start scoring runs.

Do you believe you are talented or that it's all about hard work?
I don't think I am talented. In fact, I don't believe in the word talent. All the sportsmen I have followed in my career, I see no substitute for hard work. I grew up watching players like Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, who are the best examples of those who made themselves purely through hard work.

I work on my fitness, my health, my mental strength and the time and work I put in the nets. Virat Kohli, yes, talent was there, but if you ask him, it all comes down to work ethic and the amount of hard work he put in to become the best batsman.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan88792153 on July 13, 2017, 8:41 GMT

    Sorry, but i dont see Shan in squad. openers should be Azher Sami and Fakhar.

  • Rizwan on July 10, 2017, 13:26 GMT

    Good to see that Shan's head is in the right place. He is blaming his performances rather than team politics for his stop-start career so far. Now he needs to back up the talk with some solid performances.

    I think with the departure of Misbah and Younis, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq might have to bat at #4 and #5, which might open up the openers' slots for anyone that can put up their hand. I'd like to see Sami Aslam take one of the slots. Shan can take the other, if he can prove that he is good enough.

  •   cricfan04029954 on July 6, 2017, 16:59 GMT

    shan its never over :) u need to play responsibily and there is always going to be someone v tuff and will get u ... u need to device a plan ... look if a much less compact technique players like gilchrist and dekock can score runs at the top of the order y cannot u .. they just had a technique to score runs that upset the bolwer and their rythem so u do that and there is no way u can not succeed u will do well

  • Alex on July 6, 2017, 5:58 GMT

    You could if you follow sangakarra and jayawardene. don't ask me why i told you those two players? You have same energy as them. There are good and bad in everything. Erratic is other name. Don't open. Opener position is not suitable for you. Find any position including 1 down. Never ever open. Insist on this. Goodluck.

  • alexfa3292704 on July 5, 2017, 18:46 GMT

    He is all talk but no walk. I remember a similar interview on a different website with same answers and then he got another chance and he fluffed it away in the same way he had done before. So maybe not. Ahmed Shehzad is not a good opener for ODIs but he can be good in tests along side Azhar instead of Shan.

  • asad on July 5, 2017, 18:27 GMT

    I just wonder if guys like Shehzad & Akmal thought like him & said things like 'My performances reflect why I've had a stop-start career' instead of blaming a start-stop career for performances then they would go so far by now. They both have much more ability than Masood & really just need to work on their mindset & work ethic to become world class batsmen.

  • Nauman on July 5, 2017, 16:21 GMT

    He seems to have a good head on his shoulders, remembers his stats & modes of dismissals very well. All ingredients of a very good member on the team as a coach/analyst/support personnel. International Cricket is not cut out for everyone. You can talk all you want about luck, hard work etc but its the basic skill that you build upon. If foundations are shaky, the hard work will take painfully long to get to a point where you can say you belong. He sounds more like sour grapes. He wants a test within 7 days of Pallekele - thats not how it works bro. He wants to play Birmingham test, despite being terrible in the 2 tests before. He blames lack of competitive cricket b/w tours & tests etc - good players find a way to show up sharp & focussed after such breaks. He has sound "reasons" for his failures & lack of opportunities, but those same reasons apply to those who have performed before, after & around his tenure so there is something lacking in the guy. Go fix that Shan!

  • Daisy on July 5, 2017, 15:46 GMT

    shaan masood is average player his domestic and international average is very low. there are many test openers in domestic cricket in pakistan who have batter average than him.

  • Nauman on July 5, 2017, 14:58 GMT

    Similar article was published 1 yr ago when Pakistan toured England.The big talks about his journey,his talent as school cricketer in England,his dream to play Lord's test.He said same stuff: he hasn't been consistent,he has been working hard on his technique,he is hungry for runs.The coaches praised his work ethic, mindset & temperament.It produced nothing over the last year.He got the opportunity ahead of Sami Aslam but failed to capitalize.When Sami Aslam finally got his chance,the difference b/w Shan & Sami was glaringly obvious.Azhar Ali has since settled as opener & its worked out great.Bottom line,Shan is a mediocre player with first class avg of mid-30s.He is loose outside off stump,vulnerable against moving ball & keeps edging behind - all the traits you dont want to see in your test opener.Pak should invest in Sami,bring in Salman Butt (experienced + hungry) & look for 1-2 decent openers from domestic circuit.

  • Fai on July 5, 2017, 12:53 GMT

    @CRICKET_MASTER_MIND: Mate Fawad Alam is not gone anywhere, he is a fighter and his fight continues. He still averages better than probably all of the players that you mentioned in your post. His first class record still speaks for itself and yes according to PCB management he is still a contender for a position in the Pakistan test side. He scored a marvelous 130 against balochistan recently a couple of months back. His first class average is about 57, his list A average is about 49, so yes mate we'll keep on talking about this lad!!

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