Pakistan v England: Abdullah Shafique on opening, Jurgen Klopp and playing the guitar

By Stephan ShemiltChief cricket writer in Rawalpindi
Abdullah Shafique
Abdullah Shafique averages 67 from his first seven Tests
Pakistan v England, first Test
Venue: Rawalpindi Date: Thursday, 1 December (05:00 GMT)
Coverage: Live Test Match Special radio and text commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra & BBC Sport website, plus desktop, tablets, mobiles and app.

"I like the coach, Jurgen Klopp."

Discussing football isn't the usual place to start a conversation with a Pakistan opening batter, but to know a little bit about Abdullah Shafique is to understand his attraction to Klopp's Liverpool.

"It is his mentality about coaching and his attitude towards the game," Shafique tells BBC Sport.

Only seven matches into his Test career, 23-year-old Shafique has shown the sort of characteristics that would fit into the team Klopp likes to call "mentality monsters".

Averaging nearly 67, the right-hander already possesses two hundreds and four fifties, made with an old-school approach to opening the batting that has his strike-rate down below 40.

Since he made his debut in November of last year, only Joe Root has faced more deliveries in Tests than Shafique - and the England batter has played 15 more innings. Over the course of the three matches scheduled to begin in Rawalpindi on Thursday, England and their supporters may have to get used to watching Shafique bat.

"My nature is I have to fight until the end," says Shafique. "If I am batting or fielding, I have to stay there and fight. That is my thing."

These aren't just words; Shafique has the record to back it up. In an admittedly small sample size of five knocks, he averages 93 in the fourth innings of Tests.

In March he batted almost eight hours for a 96 that denied Australia in Karachi. Even better was his 160 not out, made from 408 deliveries, in a chase of 342 to beat Sri Lanka in Galle in July, one of the all-time great fourth-innings efforts.

As England ponder how to take 20 wickets on flat Pakistani pitches, they may fear they will need a crowbar to prise Shafique from the crease.

It is not that Shafique knows only one way, either.

He shot to prominence as a 20-year-old in his first game of professional T20 cricket. With the TV cameras watching, Shafique crashed 102 not out in Central Punjab's chase of 201 to beat Southern Punjab.

Debut hundreds weren't a new thing for Shafique, either. Ten months earlier he'd done the same for Central on his first-class bow.

Abdullah Shafique playing a cover drive
Abdullah Shafique has an old-fashioned approach to opening and his cover drive is exquisite

"From that T20 innings, I was in the limelight," he says. "Everyone got to know a lot about me.

"No-one notices you if you can't perform in the big events. The challenge was getting harder after that innings because the expectations went higher and I had to meet them."

Cricket runs in Shafique's blood. His father, Shafiq Ahmed, played first-class cricket and his uncle Arshad Ali represented the UAE in four one-day internationals.

He hails from Sialkot, a city in the east that has a rich tradition of producing Pakistan cricketers and a huge industry of kit manufacturing. If you have played cricket at any level, there's a decent chance you have encountered something made there.

Still, given his heritage and upbringing, Shafique admits he was a relative latecomer to the game. Most Pakistani boys have their hands on a bat before the age of 12.

He progressed through the domestic age groups and Pakistan Under-19 team, and his elevation to the full national side was swift - his T20 debut came less than two months after that swashbuckling innings for Central and his Test debut was only his fourth first-class match.

For now, his international focus is concentrated on Test cricket. He credits his development at the highest level to Pakistan skipper Babar Azam and former coach Misbah-ul-Haq.

"They are very good human beings, very good guys," says Shafique. "They are true hard workers. They don't waste their time in the nets - they are very focused. They are very punctual. I have learnt good things from them.

"They have given me much knowledge. How to play late, under your eyes. How to be patient. They taught me good shape, good balance."

Shafique has clearly been listening. Technically correct, with a tiny shuffle across the crease, he favours scoring through the off side. His cover drive could be framed and hung in the Louvre.

Now he is set to face an England attack that will take the field in a Test in Pakistan for the first time in 17 years. It may be that Shafique is the most complete opener Pakistan have produced in that time.

"It's a special thing because we have seen them on the TV," says Shafique. "It's an opportunity for me to do well so everyone can see my performances.

"It's exciting to face bowlers like James Anderson, Mark Wood and Ben Stokes. They are challenging opponents."

If his batting exploits weren't enough, Shafique has also become an internet hit by singing and playing the guitar - a hobby he picked up during the lockdowns for Covid.

"I didn't have much to do, so had enough time to start playing guitar. Slowly I got the skills," he says.

With the Pakistan and England teams spending so much time together off the field during December, Shafique is eyeing a duet with Root, another guitarist.

"If he wants to play, definitely we will have a session. I'm fond of watching him bat - he's very good," says Shafique.

Shafique is very good too, as Root and England could be about to find out.

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