Mohammad Shahzad has copied a lot of aspects of his game from MS Dhoni, his role-model. Ever since the Afghan keeper Shahzad saw Dhoni on TV for the first time, he wanted to be like him. In fact, Shahzad prefers to be called MS, his initials. Along with the name, he also emulates the former Indian captain with the keeping gloves. By just watching videos of Dhoni on YouTube, he has mastered the art of quick stumping. Furthermore, we all know Shahzad can play the ‘helicopter shot’ as well.
However, amid such similarities, perhaps, the most important trait which Shahzad has forgotten to pick up from Dhoni is his temperament as a batsman. Whenever Shahzad bats, his flamboyant and at time irresponsible batsmanship resembles more to someone like Shahid Afridi, than Dhoni.
Shahzad has an excellent hand-eye coordination. He can anticipate the line and length of a delivery pretty early and get into the ideal position quickly in order to launch an expansive shot, much like Virender Sehwag. But unlike Dhoni or Sehwag, Shahzad’s game is more one-dimensional. He has only two gears — fifth and first.
“One man takes six singles in six balls. He tires himself out, he tires his partner out. I try to score those six runs in one ball. Neither do I get tired, nor my partner,” Shahzad had this explanation to offer when recently asked about his carefree approach at the crease by ESPNCricinfo.
His batting philosophy is fairly simple. Watch the ball closely, middle one or two, then go after what is within your reach and defend or leave what isn’t. There is nothing in between. And we all know, in cricket a high-risk gameplan like this can very well turn out to be a double-edged sword. His formula might have worked against the Indians, on Tuesday, but if Rayudu had taken the simple chance at mid-on, the entertainment would have been over quite earlier. And with all due credit to Shahzad’s knock, which indeed was sheer treat to watch, one should also remember that it was not the first-choice Indian attack.
Afghanistan will be much more benefited if Shahzad adds second, third and fourth gears to his game. Here he should take a leaf out of Dhoni’s book. When the Jharkhand lad first burst onto the scene, he was just a power-hitter. But over the years, Dhoni has transformed himself into one of the best finishers the limited overs cricket has ever seen. He changed his approach completely. And now-a-days the most important aspect of Dhoni’s game is his running between the wicket.
In contrary, when it comes to Shahzad, he finds taking singles a boring task. Instead, he conserves his energy to hit the next ball out of the park. In the 2015 World Cup, then Afghanistan coach Andy Moles preferred Afsar Zazai ahead of Shahzad in the squad, because he believed on those big Australian grounds the boundary-or-nothing approach would not have clicked.
But that snub had hardly any impact on Shahzad’s game.
If one notices his approach at the crease, he always wants to preserve his energy for the big shots. Like, during his breathtaking 124 on Tuesday, the 30-year old scored a high percentage of his runs (69.35 to be exact) through boundaries. Though, in his defence, it needs to be mentioned that towards the end of his knock, when he started refusing singles, Shahzad was cramping as well as struggling with his lower-back. In fact, he could hardly stand at the crease. So, the right-hander had no other option but to hit out. And to his credit, he did it quite successfully.
Afghanistan is now a Test playing country and Shahzad is an important member of their set-up across formats. Being a senior member of this team, time has come for him to take more responsibility with the bat in hand, especially in the 50-over format as well as in red-ball cricket. In nine months time, Afghanistan will feature in the Cricket World Cup in England and Wales and on those conditions, handling the two new balls early in the innings will be a key factor.
Hence, Shahzad needs to tighten up his technique to make in impact as a top-order batsman in the World Cup. Instead of going all guns blazing, he needs to have a controlled aggression. Until and unless Shahzad improves his temperament as batsman on those seaming English conditions, he will be found out.