Saud Shakeel’s Rise Through The Ranks
The classy left-hander has taken to Tests like a duck to water after going through the First Class cricket grind.
Known for his silky and elegant batting style, the Karachi-born Saud Shakeel kickstarted his professional cricketing career in U-16 tournaments in 2011. He quickly drew the limelight towards himself and went on to lead Karachi Whites in inter-regional U-19 leagues. Saud joined the United Bank Limited (UBL) Sports Complex in Karachi in his teenage years, giving him a launching pad to appear in the U-19 trials. Based on his inter-regional performances, the left-hander cleared the trials and was added to Pakistan’s squad for the ICC U-19 World Cup in early 2014.
While Pakistan finished as runners-up in the mega-event, Saud did not have a particularly impressive tournament, as he managed only 127 runs in six innings. However, he made a crucial contribution to Pakistan’s cause in a low-scoring semi-final against England U-19s, where he top-scored for the Greenshirts with his 45 (61). A few months later, he was promoted to captain of the U-19 side.
Saud made his First Class debut in October 2015 for Karachi Whites in the 2015–16 Quaid-e-Azam (QeA) Trophy before moving to Pakistan Television (PTV) in 2017. He was the leading run-scorer for PTV in two consecutive First Class seasons. Saud also featured for Pakistan A between 2016 and 2018, where he averaged 59 across five unofficial Test matches.
Saud was appointed as Pakistan’s skipper for the 2019 ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup in Bangladesh. Under his captaincy, Pakistan defeated the hosts in the final to lift the silverware for the first time ever. In the same year, the southpaw was named in Sindh’s squad for the 2019-20 domestic season and where he has remained to date.
Saud didn’t take long to acclimatize at Sindh as he made major headlines in the domestic circuit with a stellar run in red-ball cricket. He ended the 2020/21 QeA Trophy as the second-highest run-getter (970 runs at 57.1, including three centuries). He was not only shortlisted for the Domestic Cricketer of the Year Award by PCB, but he also received his maiden call-up to Pakistan’s Test squad for their home series against South Africa.
It was in July 2021 when Saud got the opportunity to don his first-ever international cap in an ODI game against England. Shortly afterward, he was named as Pakistan Shaheens’ captain for their tour of Sri Lanka. Saud topped the run-charts for Pakistan in the List-A matches as well as the unofficial Tests. Pakistan remained unbeaten under his captaincy on a tour that was marred by weather interruptions.
Saud was a part of Pakistan’s Test squads for their tours of the West Indies and Bangladesh in 2021 but didn’t get a chance to debut. He also warmed the bench in the home series against Australia and the away series in Sri Lanka in 2022. Undeterred, Saud bettered his 2020 run of form with a scintillating QeA season in a year where he was also handed the baton of command. He once again led the batting charts for Sindh, amassing 754 runs at a brilliant average of 68.54, including four hundreds in 12 innings. Among players who scored at least 500 runs in the domestic season, Saud faced the third-most number of balls and had the second-best balls-per-dismissals ratio. In light of his sublime form, he was slotted into the playing XI in the first Test against England about a month ago.
Since then, Saud has taken to Test cricket like a duck to water. He has accumulated 423 runs in four outings, averaging just over 60. He already has five 50+ scores, the joint-most for any Pakistan player after eight Test innings. Since the start of 2019, no Pakistan batsman has made more First Class runs (2593) at a better average (63.24) than him.
Saud has already illustrated foolproof adaptability to the format and the home conditions. He has batted twice at 4, five times at 5, and once at 8 in the four Tests as Pakistan look to gel together a solid middle-order. This is in complete contrast to his overall First Class career, where 65.7% of his 102 innings have been at numbers 3 or 4.
In the three-match series against England, Saud was Pakistan’s second-most prolific run-getter behind Babar Azam. In the second Test at Multan, where Pakistan were left with the daunting task of chasing 355 runs in the fourth innings, Saud stepped up to shoulder the responsibility and nearly took Pakistan across the line for what would have been a historic Test victory. He strolled in when Babar was castled by Ollie Robinson, and Pakistan were in an early spot of bother.
Saud stringed together 108 runs for the fourth wicket with Imam-ul-Haq and was also involved in an 80-run stand with Mohammad Nawaz for the sixth wicket, which brought Pakistan within 65 runs of the target. He did not have the bravado and the flashy strokeplay like the English, but he battled hard against reverse swing and a short-ball barrage and successfully kept the opposition at bay for more than 5.5 hours. He also displayed flawless application against England’s spinners, averaging 231 against them throughout the series. Saud was eventually strangled down the leg side and was controversially adjudged out, with replays suggesting that the ball had been grounded. He was unlucky to not only miss out on a maiden Test hundred but also on an opportunity to propel Pakistan towards a famous, series-reviving triumph.
Saud Shakeel in the Multan Test. Credits AFP/Getty Images
More recently, he was involved in a heroic rescue act against New Zealand to save the Test for Pakistan. By the time Saud went out to bat on Day 5, Pakistan were in a dire situation. They had a slender lead of 32 runs over New Zealand with only three wickets intact and nearly 35 overs left in the day’s play. Saud’s entry point had been tactically delayed as Pakistan frontloaded their right-handers in a bid to deny the New Zealand spinners from operating in the sizeable rough patches outside the left-handers’ off-stump. Ish Sodhi had already accounted for Imam and Shan Masood and had brought New Zealand within touching distance of a victory courtesy of his brilliant five-for.
Pakistan did not just need a valiant rear-guard action; they also needed to keep the scoreboard ticking to give themselves something to defend in case they were bowled out. For the eighth-wicket partnership, Saud combined with Mohammad Wasim to add an invaluable 71 runs to the tally and also took time out from the game. His unbeaten half-century oozed class, maturity, and game awareness, and it effectively dragged Pakistan out of the claws of calamity.
In his short career so far, Saud has shown the capability of tackling pressure and scoring vital runs in crunch situations. Four of his five Test fifties have come in the second innings, where he averages 92.67 (BPD: 204.3) as opposed to 36.25 (BPD: 73.0) in the first. With Azhar Ali hanging his boots, Pakistan can potentially look to slot Saud at number three; arguably the hardest position to bat at in modern Test cricket but also a position where he has excelled the most in the domestic circuit, although he will undoubtedly be tested in tougher conditions and against stronger attacks than he has faced so far. Pakistan may eventually tread that path, but it might be better to take that route sooner than later and not burn daylight as they did in handing Saud his maiden Test cap.