For Pakistan and its countless fans, the sight of Shoaib Malik walking in to bat at the fall of the first – or second – wicket against India must be reassuring. For the Indians though, the tall batsman evokes different emotions.
India's bugbear has left Team India scratching its collective head, wondering how his prolific scoring ways can be curtailed. Pace bowler S Sreesanth seemed to have opened up a chink in the solid armoury when he got Malik to edge a delivery to second slip but Gautam Gambhir spilled a simple catch on a day when India missed some straightforward chances.
Dropped at 12, Malik faced no more hiccups as he went on to keep his date with a battling century that would have made the thousands of Indians in the Gaddafi Stadium stands marvel at his consistent displays against the Men in Blue. Come to think of it, India's tormentor is just 24 years of age and can keep adding to his wonderful tally.
For someone who was released from the team to attend on his ailing father during the second Test against India – and recalled in a hurry only to be sent back upon hearing of his father's demise – and for someone who was not picked for the third Test in his hour of grief, Malik has celebrated his return with some fine efforts.
In the three matches in the series, he has strung together scores of 90, 95 and 108, making many question former Pakistan captain Imran Khan's decision to pick on Malik's continued presence at No. 3 as one of the reasons for the team's loss in Rawalpindi. Of course, Shahid Afridi opened the innings on Monday, pushing Kamran Akmal and Malik down the order.
Some figures may be in order now. In 19 matches against India, he has made 961 runs at an average of 53.38 runs each innings, crossing 50 as many as 10 times and picking up his second century on Monday. Contrastingly, he has scored 2932 runs at an average of 34.90 runs in his career spanning 110 one-day international matches (95 innings).
The turning point really was his knock of 143 in the Asia Cup match in Colombo in 2004 when he batted at No. 3 for the first time against India. For someone who had made only 122 runs in his first six innings against India, he then proceeded to rustle up 839 in the next 13 innings at a whopping average of 64.38 runs with as many as nine 50-plus scores.
A mature approach rather than the simply bustling methods that a Afridi is wont to apply, marks Malik's game. To be sure, he can hit the ball really hard when he chooses to – in fact, when he was first sent up the order, he was assigned the role of a pinch hitter – but he now prefers to work the ball in the gaps.
In the first two games at Peshawar and Rawlapindi, he was dismissed in the 90s. There was not a hint of tension or alarm as he coasted through to the triple figure mark for the fifth time in 110 one-day games.
The crowd cheered every run that Malik added for the seventh-wicket with Abdul Razzaq, roaring each time either batsman found the boundary. Pakistan rode on the calming influence of Malik and the blitzing abilities of that wonderful finisher called Razzaq to raise 89 runs in the final 10 overs.
Tiring as he may have been, he would be the first to admit that he was dismissed at a critical stage but then Pakistan would be grateful that he had put his hand up against India one more time.
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