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For Shadab Khan, leading Islamabad United has proved transformational

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KARACHI: Having broken through as a wrist spinner with some decent variations in his arsenal, Shadab Khan has undergone a massive transformation into becoming, arguably, Pakistan’s most complete cricketer.

In the ongoing HBL Pakistan Super League, he has accumulated 186 runs at 46.50 in five outings while with the ball, the Islamabad United captain has claimed 14 victims to top the bowlers’ chart so far.

Shadab is not just doing it in the PSL. At only 23, he has emerged as one of the key players in the Pakistan national side, not as a batter or a bowler only, but most importantly, as a leader.

It was the opportunity to lead, according to Shadab himself, which changed him for the better when he was appointed by his franchise as captain last year, months after he was handed the national team white-ball vice-captaincy.

“Becoming a captain at a young age has proved to be a big advantage for me,” Shadab told Dawn in a video interview on Tuesday.

He admitted his approach to the sport has completely changed since he was handed the role and that it was not all about himself anymore.

“My thought process as a captain is completely different from how I used to think as just another player,” said the 23-year-old.

“Becoming a captain at a young age makes a player mature, because otherwise you only think about yourself and how only you can contribute for the team.

“But as captain you’ve to think about each and everyone in the squad including the coaches, the management, the players on the bench and others.”

Shadab’s growth also symbolises the growth of the national team in the last few months. Especially during the ICC T20 World Cup last year, where Pakistan looked a different side.

Under Babar Azam, the team made it to the semi-finals of the T20 cricket’s showpiece event before losing out to Australia. They also made history beating arch-rivals India for the first time in a World Cup game.

A memorable 2021 saw Babar, Mohammad Rizwan and Shaheen Shah Afridi winning top individual ICC awards. All three are currently captains of their respective sides, Karachi Kings, Multan Sultans and Lahore Qalandars.

For Shadab, one of the reasons, among others, behind the national team’s meteoric rise is the presence of leaders in the group.

“We’ve been playing together for a long time and it has helped us know each other as human beings and as players as well,” he said.

“We’ve learnt which players can win us matches in certain situations and since cricket is a team game, it has really helped us to get better.

“Most of the players in the national team are either captains at the domestic or the PSL level, or they have leadership roles in their respective sides. When we play for Pakistan, we have full confidence in each other and we try to celebrate each other’s successes.”

While Shadab’s leadership has taken United to second place in the PSL table after three wins in five matches, Babar’s Karachi Kings are bottom with no success at all.

Questions are being asked about Pakistan captain’s ability to lead and he is also being criticised in some circles for not having enough purpose with the bat.

Shadab said he was sad to see people levelling criticism against Babar.

“When the team is struggling, it is not because individuals,” he said. “Babar doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. When people criticise him, it is sad to see because he is the number one batter in the world and has been performing since four-five years.

“I think people are not patient and they bring down a player too early. Babar has always been world class and will remain so. People think it is due to Babar’s captaincy that his team is not performing well, but when they will start giving good performances people will see it differently.”

Shadab will be reunited with the Pakistan captain when they play Australia in three ODIs and a T20I later this month after a three-match Test series in which Shadab is highly unlikely to feature.

On Tuesday, Australia named a full-strength squad for the Tests, which means a strong one can be expected for the white-ball matches too with the two teams set to face off each other in Pakistan for the first time after 1998.

Shadab said his Pakistan team-mates are excited to play the historic series while for himself, individually, the white-ball matches will be extra special.

“We all are very happy because a big team is coming Pakistan,” he said. “Hopefully we will win it because it is a home series and important for the World Test Championship. The white-ball series is in my home ground [Rawalpindi] and I am very excited about giving my best performances for Pakistan.”

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2022

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