Pakistan’s Shan Masood shines at the English county league

Pakistan’s Shan Masood shines at the English county league

Shan Masood link made a point of walking past Lord's every day when he lived in St John's Wood as a young man; in his first innings as a county cricketer, he made 91 there to lead Derbyshire's reply against Middlesex in the opening round of the Championship season. He had to drag himself up off the pitch after charging down it and losing his balance as Josh de Caires pushed through a wide offbreak to have him stumped, but this was a serene start to his season as an overseas player.

Masood lived five minutes away from Lord's link from 2008 to 2013, staying at his parents' flat outside term-time while studying at Stamford School, then Durham University. He would daydream about playing a Test match there while walking back from the gym and realised that ambition six years ago. This time, he fell nine runs short of a hundred on his return to his home away from home.

"It's a bit surreal coming back," he said at the close. "Walking into the ground rather than walking past it, that's a huge change. That's why you play the sport. You enjoy these little moments; they stay with you forever." He missed the milestone, but his innings buoyed a Derbyshire side that struggled with the bat last season, starting strongly on a flat, slowish pitch in response to Middlesex's 401.

The only two players to average over 35 for Derbyshire last year left the club over the winter: Matt Critchley joined Essex, while Harvey Hosein retired after multiple concussions. This represented a bright start to 2022, and the club hope that the arrival of Ian Bell as a batting consultant for the first two months of the season will spark further improvements.

Masood's deal came about thanks to a chance encounter with Mickey Arthur, his former Pakistan coach, at Dubai airport at the end of last year. Arthur was at the end of his contract as Sri Lanka's head coach following the T20 World Cup and mulling Derbyshire's offer to become their new head of cricket. He had spent a couple of days in Dubai after Sri Lanka's elimination, "planning ahead as to what I wanted to do".

"I thought there would be a signal somewhere that it was going to be the right move," he recalled at his unveiling earlier this year, "and just when I was thinking that, I walked straight into Shan Masood. We went and had a coffee and I said: 'Do you want to come and play for us for a year, and try and get your place in the Pakistan side back?'"

Masood jumped at the chance. He was recalled to the Test squad for last month's series against Australia on the back of a strong domestic season in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and a strong start to the Championship season will help him push his case further. At 32, he should be in the prime of his career and his impressive form in the recent PSL hinted at a man in form, albeit in a different format.

"If I look at the player I was in 2016 compared to the player that I feel I am now, there's a huge difference," he said. "Mickey can take a huge chunk of credit for that. He's always pushed me. We've had hard conversations and hard moments as well, but it's always been for my betterment and for my good - and he's done that for a lot of players back in Pakistan as well who are reaping the rewards for the time he's invested in them.

"I'm in a decent headspace right now. I'm more focused on developing myself as a player and getting this opportunity to play cricket for six months. I don't have international cricket on my mind: if it comes, it comes; if it doesn't, it doesn't. The challenge right now for me is to make sure I'm better equipped for whatever cricket I play. I just want to learn, score runs, and be comfortable with myself - which I feel I am."

He played fluently, pushing his strike rate up towards 60 as Middlesex's seamers missed their lengths in their second spells. He survived a couple of early shouts for lbw, squirted a couple of balls away through the gully, and played and missed at Toby Roland-Jones either side of tea, but was largely in control, clipping calmly off the pads to score heavily through midwicket.

Masood's poise was epitomised by a pair of boundaries off Roland-Jones, rolling the wrists as he went too straight from around the wicket, then standing tall to slap him through extra cover when strayed too wide after changing his angle. That made his rush of blood on 91 - the ball after a loud appeal for lbw was turned down - seem inexplicable, as de Caires added a maiden first-class wicket to his first half-century on day one.

Middlesex added 94 runs to their overnight score in the morning session, Robbie White cruising to fifty, but nearly missed a fourth batting bonus point. John Simpson and Roland-Jones both fell to Alex Thomson's offspin with the score on 347 in the final over before points are allocated, the 110th, leaving Tom Helm the task of hitting his first ball for four. He duly shuffled across and slog-swept it over midwicket.

They ended the day eyeing a substantial first-innings lead, with Wayne Madsen trapped lbw by Ethan Bamber as the shadows lengthened. Tim Murtagh, still toiling away at the age of 40, took his 900th first-class wicket when he knocked back Billy Godleman's off stump; do not rule out the possibility of him reaching 1000.

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