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Pakistan in South Africa

Technical tweaks work in Shan Masood’s favour

Pakistan’s batting looked completely out of sorts in South Africa, with one or two exceptions. Their batsmen were unable to put on big scores which meant they were always under pressure right from the start. There were some patches of brilliance sandwiched between oft-happening batting collapses.

The senior duo of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq didn’t put on big scores, which eventually put on pressure on the rest of the batsmen around them. An injury to Haris Sohail before the start of the first Test at Centurion paved the way for Shan Masood. And he, alongside Babar Azam, stood out against South Africa’s fearsome pace attack.

Shan Masood’s case has been interesting: He started his Test career in 2013 and right away, struck an impressive 75 on debut against an impressive South Africa attack. His next moment of brilliance (125) came against Sri Lanka in 2015, when he, alongside Younis Khan, constructed a magnificent 242-run partnership for fourth-wicket to help Pakistan chase down 377.

But soon came the downfall, when Masood was found wanting against the likes of James Anderson, who had his wood over him, dismissing the left-hander twice in four innings in 2016.

After getting dropped, Masood spent some time with former Somerset all-rounder, Gary Palmer, a freelance batting coach. Palmer has worked with the likes of Alastair Cook (Masood’s self-professed influencer), and preaches a more open stance which prevents the batsmen from tipping over to the off-side.

Following that technical alteration, Masood scored 420 runs in the Departmental One Day Cup (2016/17) at an average of 70. He was recalled to the Test side for the Caribbean tour in 2017, but featured in only one Test match.

He applied that open stance in Dominica against Windies and as the ball was about to get delivered, he crouched a bit, turning his front foot into a more sideways position and straightened his bat pick-up as he prepared to face a quick bowler. Interestingly, there was no trigger movement from his feet which most batsmen use to prepare themselves against really quick bowling.

 Shan Masood against West Indies in 2017

Shan Masood against West Indies in 2017

Fast-forward to the Sri Lanka series in the UAE in 2017 - Pakistan’s first international assignment post Champions Trophy triumph - Masood opted for a different approach. He was using a forward press against the quicker bowlers and making that movement after the ball had been delivered out of the bowler’s hand.

Getting too low and the forward and across movement was taking his head outside the line of off-stump and when that happens, you become unsure about your off-stump.

 Masood presses forward against Sri Lanka

Masood presses forward against Sri Lanka

Another axe from the side followed when the left-hander was not considered for England and Ireland tours. Meanwhile, he continued to top the batting charts in the domestic circuit, amassing 632 runs from nine innings in the Departmental One Day Cup (2017/18).

Masood, eventually made headlines when he stood out for his performances for the Pakistan ‘A’ side against New Zealand in the UAE. This time around, he made a couple of changes in his set-up.

 Left: Masood in the UAE, Right: Masood in SA

Left: Masood in the UAE, Right: Masood in SA

As shown on the right (in South Africa), Masood turned to a more upright stance with a slight flexion in his knees. That, in turn, improved his head position and just before the ball was about to be released, he made that back and across movement with his back foot as compared to the image on the left. A better head position aids in better judgement on what balls to play and what balls to leave.

Interestingly, Masood now ‘loads up’ his back foot to propel himself forward and if he has to play off the back foot, he pushes off the opposite foot (in this case his front foot) and then plays accordingly.

A better view of this can be seen from one of his footages in his 161 against the England Lions, where he takes his back foot back and across (loading up) and when he has processed the line and length, that ‘loading up’ pushes the body forward as he makes one final movement into the ball.

 Masood loads up back foot to push forward

Masood loads up back foot to push forward

Playing off the back foot

 Fast, short-pitched bowling tests out a batsman’s temperament and, technique, and demands real clarity in mind. Often batsmen are thinking about the short ball which leaves them vulnerable to the fuller ball because they are unable to get into a quality striking position.

Masood dealt with the short ball quite easily because he was batting with a clear head and his eyes were in a great position to spot the ball and pick length early, a crucial element in batting. He had a clear plan whether he was going to duck, sway or take on the short ball. Because he was standing more upright at the crease, that would have helped him against short bowling.

In a nutshell, Masood has finally got hold of a method which so far has served him well in South Africa. He experimented with his trigger movements and the ‘pushing off the back foot’ method has so far worked for him.

After being in and out of the Pakistan side, Masood has shown enough signs that he is worth persisting with. And the regular performances with focused attitudes might just pave his way for introduction into the limited overs side.