For a man usually so measured with his words, Shan Masood couldn’t help repeating himself. Looking ahead to the first Test against Sri Lanka in Rawalpindi – Pakistan’s first at home in over a decade – Masood stressed on the value of cricketers playing regularly at home, and the benefits he was sure it would bring for Pakistan cricket in both the short- and long-term.
“If you look at the best players in Test cricket, their home records are superior to away records,” Masood said. “You are more familiar with the atmosphere, the pitches, and enjoy crowd support, and that was one thing that was missing from Pakistan cricket.
“Bringing Test cricket here is our biggest accomplishment. Test cricket as a whole suffered around the world, and in Pakistan, we’ve dedicated more to white-ball cricket. This is an opportunity for children in Pakistan to have a proper look at Test cricket. They’ll look at people like Azhar Ali, who scored a 300 and a double-century in Australia. They’ll look at Asad Shafiq, who has scored hundreds all around the world. We’ve got exciting pacers like Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi. We’ve got Mohammad Abbas, who has been ranked No. 1 in the world, and Yasir Shah, who has been the No. 1 spinner in the world. Babar Azam is climbing up the Test rankings as well.
“This is a chance for our young generation to finally watch their heroes and it was unfortunate that legends like Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan couldn’t play in their home grounds in the peak of their careers. So I’m really excited, because I feel this will propel Pakistan as a generation and the future generations of this country to take up cricket. It’s almost going to be like everyone is making their debuts, because we’re all playing in Pakistan for the first time.”
“I feel this will propel Pakistan as a generation and the future generations of this country to take up cricket”
He didn’t shy away from admitting that the recent tour of Australia was very disappointing, as Pakistan were swept 2-0, losing both games by an innings.
“We played well in patches, but in this format you have to play well consistently over five days,” Masood, who was one of the better performers with the bat, said. “It’s a great time, but we have to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes we made in Australia and nurture a winning culture. The tour to Australia was difficult. We all accept that. Our performances weren’t as good as we were expecting.
“Australia have the experience of playing at home a lot, and we don’t play many Test matches as it is. If you look over the past few years, we’ve played no more than seven-eight Test matches in any year; Australia play closer to 15. Frequency of tours matters also. India visited Australia in 2014, last year and again next year. So if they’re going three times in five years, they become more accustomed to conditions. Let’s be patient. I feel when we play at home, we’ll see different performances, and the confidence of those performances will be reflected in away tours as well.”
Masood may speak and sound like a senior player, and having made his debut six years ago, that shouldn’t be especially striking. But a glance at his record tells you the 29-year-old opener has only played 17 Test matches, with this being his sixth – and longest – stint. Before he played the first Test in Centurion last year, he had played 12 Test matches in five different spells. That security he appears to enjoy now has long been unfamiliar to him, and Masood feels his personal game is beginning to benefit.
“When you play continuously, you learn from your mistakes. This year, I’ve played five Test matches on the trot,” he said. “While my career average is 27 [27.90], my average these past five Test matches is around 39 [38.40], so there has been an improvement. I’ll put my hand up and admit I had opportunities in South Africa and Australia where I didn’t capitalise on good starts. I want to perform where and when I get the opportunity.
“When we don’t perform, I know how much it hurts our families, and the nation, since that’s who we’re representing. It is my job to take my average up to a level that top batsman should have.”
“We lost in Australia but we have quite a few positives to take from it, and we played against probably the best bowling attack in the world”
In these last ten innings, Masood has only once been dismissed without reaching double figures, and has scored over 40% of his career Test runs these past 12 months. Note that these recent games have all come away from home against South Africa and Australia, arguably the two best bowling attacks in the world, and the prospect of Masood playing a leading role on the more familiar surfaces in Rawalpindi and Karachi begins to look likely.
Masood, however, is taking nothing for granted. “No opposition is easy. Test cricket is played between the top 10-12 teams in the world. The added pressure or incentive is we’re playing for points in the World Test Championship,” he said. “We won’t take them lightly; they came here and won the T20 series and their Test side beat us in the UAE as well. They have Mickey Arthur [Pakistan’s former head coach] as well. We’re up for the challenge.
“We lost in Australia but we have quite a few positives to take from it, and we played against probably the best bowling attack in the world. We learnt from our mistakes, and we’ll try to rectify them.”
Most of all, however, he thanked Sri Lanka for giving Pakistan another chance and returning to play cricket in the country, despite being the team most affected by the security uncertainty that has so plagued the country’s hosting prospects.
“On Wednesday in Rawalpindi, we’ll have a Test match in Pakistan after ten years, and for the first time in 15 in Rawalpindi. The country that suffered that terrible terrorist attack is the first one to come back. Hats off to the Sri Lankan boards and the Sri Lankan players for giving us this chance to host them.”