Masood, and the value of time in Test cricket

Shan Masood takes off his helmet after getting to a hundred AFP

Minutes after play was called off for bad light a few overs early, Shan Masood walked into the press conference. If anything, he shuffled in, though having scored the hundred that put Pakistan in command of the first Test against Bangladesh, he would have been well within his rights to allow himself a strut. Instead, he spent most of his time in much the same way as he had when at the crease, circumspect and patient, placing the same weight on his words as he does on his wicket.

The winter sun had barely begun to stamp its authority on a crisp February morning when Abid Ali slashed at a wide ball in the second over, the tickle off the bat comfortably pouched by wicketkeeper Liton Das. It only added to the pressure on Masood's shoulders; looking to see off the new ball had been one of the goals Pakistan had set out before the game began.

"When we won the toss, we wanted to assess what a good score on this pitch would be. Here, the ball wasn't moving much in the air, but moving off the deck quite a bit, so the newer the ball, the greater the chance of a bowler picking up wickets. The older and softer the ball, the easier batting would be. The heavy roller was used on it yesterday, and used today as well, so it was easier to bat on today.

"But this is Test cricket. At one point when we were 90-odd for one, it looked as if runs were coming quickly, but when Azhar Ali got out, even Babar Azam struggled in the first few overs. We needed to bat with discipline, and when we stuck to our plans, we came through and we've put up a good score."

Masood speaks with the authority of a senior player, and just 13 months on from Boxing Day, 2018, when he was tossed into the Pakistan side at Centurion following a late injury to Haris Sohail, that's exactly what he has become. He has now played eight Tests on the trot - a far cry from the 12 he played in five different stints across more than half a decade. And it's easy to see why, from a bit-part player who was, at best, a part-time international cricketer for Pakistan for so long has suddenly become among the first names on the team sheet in red-ball cricket.

"When you play 15 Test matches in over six years as I did, you don't get the chance to familiarise yourself with the game at this level. It always seems like each match is your debut." SHAN MASOOD

This unbroken eight-Test run has accounted for over half his runs in Test cricket, as well as three of his six half-centuries and, thanks to the 100 he added to his burgeoning tally, two thirds of his three-figure scores. The susceptibility to the short ball that cost him his place so often in the early part of his career is a worry that keeps him up less and less, while the price he put on his wicket today is a microcosm of how he has gone about approaching Test cricket since that serendipitous return to the national side in South Africa. In addition to the bloody-minded determination that everyone who has worked with Masood at some point singles out for praise, the 30-year old insists feeling secure in the side is key to success.

"Off field work is our job. That's our profession, just as someone who has an office job needs to go to work from 9-5. But when you play 15 Test matches in over six years as I did, you don't get the chance to familiarise yourself with the game at this level. It always seems like each match is your debut, and that selection depends on your next two performances. 8 Test matches - which I've played consecutive now - is a fair chance, and in Test cricket, preparing a batsman requires this sort of investment.

"If you look at our best batsmen currently - Babar Azam - it took time even for him to acclimatise to Test cricket. When we give our players more opportunities, they will bring results, and that's being borne out in Babar's performances right now. The rest have only reached the level they have by getting the opportunities to play at this level. In Test cricket, you need that little bit more time than the other formats."

When at the crease today, Masood looked like he had that little bit more time. He leant into drives, he stayed back for punches through the covers, and the Bangladesh bowlers, admittedly not the quickest in the world, were made to look all the more sluggish. For Masood had time on the ball, spent time at the crease, and, should this uptick in form prove representative of his real abilities, plenty of time left in an international career that has, at long last, burst into iridescent bloom. And who knows, while he's adding things to his repertoire, he may even incorporate the strut into his gait one day.