Abdullah Shafique was called up to Pakistan in 2020 - but not for the Test side where he distinguished himself today. He was called up to the T20I side, on the back of a hundred in the National T20 Cup. He since then has been with the national team, though generally finds himself sitting on bench upon bench. He did play three T20Is, following up an unbeaten 41 with a pair of ducks in New Zealand. But he had his eyes firmly upon the longer format, and, despite spending just 20 months in the first-class system, he was called up for the series against Bangladesh. It might be easy to overlook because he took to it so naturally, but Shafique's domestic career in Pakistan isn't even two years old.
His Test call-up wasn't met especially warmly. There was disgruntlement about why a player with only one first-class game in Pakistan's domestic circuit went on to play Test cricket for the country. But despite his unconventional route, Shafique's red-ball debut had always been on the cards. But while people debated his inclusion, he was busy totting up a 145-run opening stand with Abid Ali to put Pakistan in command.
"The fundamentals of his game are flawless" Misbah-ul-Haq on Abdullah Shafique
He was especially solid on the day, underlined by, according to ESPNcricinfo's numbers, a control percentage of 94 to go with his unbeaten 52. A staid strike rate of 32.09 might signal attrition, but there were moments of confidence and flair, none more so than when he danced down the ground to deposit Mominul Haque over the sightscreen to bring up his half-century. He was the first Pakistan opener to do that on debut. There were no streaky edges to third man; in fact, he scored no runs in that region. It was the onside where he excels, underlined by more than half his runs coming through midwicket.
Shafique broke into the system as a 20-year-old batter, coming from a cricketing family in Sialkot. His father, Shafiq Ahmed, also played first-class cricket in Pakistan and his uncle, Arshad Ali, played international cricket for UAE. He was drafted into the Central Punjab second XI because their first team at the time had Babar Azam, Azhar Ali, Abid Ali, Salman Butt and Ahmed Shehzad - and therefore no room in the top order. He was overlooked for the first five rounds by the second XI, too but in just the second opportunity he got, scored a double-hundred.
That gave Shafique a look-in into the first team, where a debut century earned his side the points that helped keep their 2019-20 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy season alive. It remains his only first-class home game, but he followed that hundred up with another in T20 cricket, making him just the second cricketer in history to manage three-figures first-class and T20 debut.
There has never been a set pattern to recruitment in Pakistan's domestic system, and bringing players through to the national side. Players have been discarded for poor performances, only to make a comeback months later without any discernible improvement in form or skill level. They have always preferred instinct to organisation, ever living in the hope of unearthing another Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Javed Miandad or Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Misbah-ul-Haq, the ex-head coach and chief selector, was the man who selected Shafique in the national side, even if he spent most of that time frozen out of the starting line-up. There were several openers tried and discarded - Shan Masood, Imam ul Haq, Imran Butt. But Shafique hung around, patiently awaiting his chance. There was some pressure on Misbah to give Shafique his chance, but at the time, he couldn't see him making a Test or ODI debut just yet. Now, sitting watching his debut on TV, there's barely a happier man.
"He was always close to making his debut and I am happy he finally has," Misbah told ESPNcricinfo. "He is one of the few eye-catching players you enjoy watching. He is rare breed who is technically solid and has all the tools to build his game. He is an opener who can attack and has an implacable defence, too. If you have look at his batting, he plays close to his body and his precise foot movement make his balance just very right. The fundamentals of his game are flawless. I know he hasn't played much domestic cricket but he played a lot of club cricket. His development at that stage, I think was so thorough and meaningful that he hasn't missed much."
Shafique played club cricket in the locally famous Amir Wasim cricket academy in Sialkot before moving to Jaguar Club, where he worked with Mansoor Amjad. "He is ahead of his time and understands what he is doing," said Misbah. "He is so composed playing with no sense of pressure about it. He is already mature in his game. I think he played a lot of club cricket, which we often disregard the importance of."
There was logic behind Pakistan keeping him close, even if he had limited game time. He did play two T20Is in New Zealand but Misbah believes they came too early and in conditions that were much too testing. Sure enough, Shafique fell for two ducks, and was consigned to the sidelines for an extended period.
"He has got a great temperament, just like Babar Azam," Misbah said. "His maturity is one of the many factors that vindicate his decision not to throw himself into domestic cricket. He gained all the relevant experience playing club cricket. That is rare and you do not find such players every day. It doesn't work with everyone. He is determined, he is smart, he can take singles at will and he is a hard worker."
Misbah doesn't do hyperbole, and if Shafique excites him quite as much as that, there's perhaps good news for Pakistan's top order woes. The man who couldn't get off the bench might soon be getting fans off their sofas if he's nearly as good as he looked in Chattogram today.