Pakistan may be trailing 0-1 in the ongoing two-Test series against New Zealand but Faheem Ashraf's exquisite batting form throughout the tour has been a startling revelation for the visitors.
Having always been categorized as an underachiever with the bat in white-ball cricket, Faheem slammed a quick-fire 31 in the first T20I to stamp his authority at a time when the team's top-order failed.
Subsequently, it has been Faheem's heroics in the Test matches thus far that have grabbed the attention of everyone, even invoking comparisons with Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood.
Faheem's introduction in the traditional format wasn't all too shabby when he hammered a counterattacking 83 on debut against Ireland in 2018. However, surprisingly sporadic appearances in Test cricket since then have denied him a chance to become a regular of the red-ball unit.
In the series opener in Mount Maunganui, the 26-year-old showed once again why his continuous omission from the side was a contentious choice by the selectors as he crafted a career-best score of 91 to help Pakistan avoid the follow-on.
To repeat such a feat on a green strip at Christchurch would have required something special but Faheem came close to racking up another half-century as he composed a brilliant 48 in Pakistan's total of 297.
Faheem's knock at Hagley Oval on Sunday began in the typical vibrant manner, racing to 26 off 29 balls on the back of five scrumptious boundaries. The all-rounder then astutely shifted gears to delay New Zealand's quest for finding a breakthrough, lasting a further 59 balls at the crease.
Faheem's past troubles of getting himself into a tangle while facing the short ball seem to have faded away since he looks a lot more confident pulling the red cherry square of the wicket. In fact, the highlight of Faheem's fighting effort in Pakistan's first innings in Christchurch was a gorgeous pull shot off Matt Henry to cast away any perceived fears of a short-ball weakness.
The key changes made by Faheem in order to quell his shortcoming have come through the guidance of former Pakistan skipper Mohammad Yousuf. The legendary batsman recently landed the batting coach role at the National High Performance Centre in Lahore and the impact of his teaching is already felt in the form of Faheem's success.
In an interview with Cricket Pakistan, Yousuf indicated how he used video analysis to pinpoint Faheem's issue of going on the front foot early in his batting stride. This created problems in timing the ball, hence Yousuf worked with the youngster to make this movement as negligible as possible.
Faheem acknowledged this technical tweak in a video interview with pcb.com.pk and talked about Yousuf and assistant coach Shahid Aslam's influence on his style of play.
"I initially had a knee problem so I focused on my batting at the NCA and later I endured a shoulder injury following the return from England, following which I worked on my batting in Yousuf bhai's and Shahid bhai's mentorship," Faheem said.
"Both of them just advised me not to excessively lunge forward while playing on the front foot. They told me to control the movement and keep my head still. I have incorporated these minor adjustments in my batting and this has given me time to play the ball late," he added.
Reiterating the basics of surviving in Test cricket, Faheem focused on the importance of playing with a straight bat. Pakistan's batting display on Sunday was marked by a series of impeccable drives down the ground denoting their implementation on the plans of presenting the full face of the bat to the ball.
"Playing good innings does give you confidence but you have to keep one thing in mind that you don't have to play with an angled bat in red-ball cricket," Faheem claimed. "Our batting coach also says that this format requires patience to stay at the wicket for long and build partnerships."