Shakeel, Salman and Pakistan turn on the gas to play Test cricket at turbo speed

„The last Test cycle was a big reflection for us…we weren’t scoring as high a rate as our opposition,” says Shaun Masood.

Andrew Fidel Fernando

South Shakeel punches one through the off side Associated Press

South Shakeel has had a great start to his Test career, but unlike how Harry Brook has had a great start to his Test career.

After 10 innings, Shakeel averages 72.50. After 17 taps, Brooke is at 64.25.

Few who watched them bat before Monday would have made the comparison. And here’s why. If you halve Brook’s Test-match strike rate of 94.31, you’d need to deduct a few more points to match Shakeel’s, which stands at 41.66.

At this stage, Shakeel faced 1392 balls and hit one six. Brooke faced 1090 and scored 20.

And yet, suddenly, after a six-month test hiatus, Pakistan are running at a run rate of 4.91 after 45 overs in their first innings, Shakil has so far scored an unbeaten 69 off 88 balls. Agha Salman, who had a Test strike rate of 56.65 before this game, was Shakeel’s main partner in Galle, scoring 61 off 84 runs through the stumps.

After Sri Lanka scored 312, the pair found themselves in deep trouble along with Pakistan at 101 for 5. They then scored 120 off 136 balls and remained unbeaten in Greece. They swept hard, came out of their crease often, and rarely allowed the bowlers to produce dot balls.

Shaun Masood, who had earlier scored 39 off 30 runs, revealed that this was the result of a change in direction for the team.

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„The last Test cycle gave us a big reflection and this management was very adamant that the reason we weren’t winning or finishing Tests was because we weren’t scoring at a high rate. Our opposition, it was a concerted effort.

„There were guys who were given grants to go and play cricket in England, but the rest of the guys worked really hard during two skill camps based in Lahore and Karachi before we flew to Sri Lanka. The emphasis was on scoring runs to put the opposition under pressure.

“In the camp everything was left to individual preferences, but they were given platforms to experiment – to play all kinds of shots, see what suits them, what kind of opposition they face. If you look at our players. You could see subtle changes in the set-up – especially South and Agha – that allowed them to score quickly.”

The new aggression is understood to be partly driven by Pakistan’s new team director, Mickey Arthur, although others in the coaching and support staff are also supportive. In this particular match, it may have to do with conditions and current resistance.

Arthur, who coached Sri Lanka between 2019 and 2021, not only has intimate knowledge of the track in Galle, but also coached the likes of Prabhat Jayasuriya and Ramesh Mendis when they made their Test debuts.

„When it comes to these conditions in Sri Lanka, one thing Sri Lanka do is hold the opposition to poor run rates and they get wickets in between,” Masood said. „Yes, we lost wickets, but playing that way allowed us to stay in the game. With that one healthy partnership, both teams are level now.”

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In Galli, the theory that you get your runs before the inevitable good ball gets you out is not new. Many batsmen, including Sri Lanka’s own, have tried this strategy with varying degrees of success. But this is the first time that Pakistan – one of the most frequent tourists to Sri Lanka in the 21st century – will focus on an aggressive batting team.

„Normally you see Tests moving from the third day, but from what I saw in Calais, Tests end in four days,” Masood said. „Some funny things happen here because the ball keeps doing something. The breeze keeps the fast bowlers in, there’s some reverse swing, there’s some good carry, the spinners are always prime. When you’re at it, you want to minimize the fourth-innings chase.”

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka Correspondent. @fidelf

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