Shahzad lights up T10 opener
It was raining fours and sixes in the most famous desert cricket venue as Afghan wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad played the innings of his life to give Rajputs an emphatic 10-wicket victory over Sindhis in the opening match of the second edition of the T10 League on Wednesday.
In its glorious history, the Sharjah Cricket Stadium has witnessed many a batting masterclass.
From Javed Miandad's epic 116 against India that saw the famous, match-winning last-ball six in 1986 to Sachin Tendulkar's Desert Storm in 1998, this grand old venue has seen batting legends at their absolute best.
Shahzad may not belong to the league of elites in cricket, but on an unforgettable Wednesday evening the opening batsman showed his ability to hit sixes for fun.
Such was his brilliance that a batsman as explosive as Brendon McCullum (21 not out, 8 balls, 1 four, 2 sixes) was forced to play the second fiddle as Shahzad put Sindhis to the sword.
His unbeaten 74 off 16 balls (6 fours, 8 sixes) sparked wild celebrations among the Afghan fans in the stands as Rajputs chased down the target of 95 in just four overs.
Earlier, captain Shane Watson's 20-ball 42 (3 fours, 4 sixes) helped Sindhis make 94/6 in 10 overs, but a fearless Afghan made a mockery of that target.
"We saw something pretty unique and special tonight. You have got to take a step back and admire a performance like that," Sindhis coach Tom Moody said at the post-match press conference.
"We were probably 20 runs short, but I think tonight Shahzad's batting was something out of the ordinary. And it's nice for him that he had that opportunity and we paid the price for it."
The Australian coach said a hundred in this format is possible if a batsman could play an innings like Shahzad's. "This was my first experience in a T10 game. Looking at the wicket, looking at the size of the ground, looking at the quality of striking from Shahzad I think there is no reason why a batter couldn't reach a hundred," he said.
"But it would be an extraordinary performance if we did. I think I would be surprised if we see an innings like that in the next couple of weeks. I think we have been treated to something pretty special."
Even Herschelle Gibbs, the legendary South African batsman and Rajputs coach, couldn't stop admiring Shahzad.
"I haven't seen such clean hitting for a long time. His wrists went through the ball beautifully. Everything they tried, he had an answer to," the former South African opening batsman said. "It can happen in this sort of formats, but that was on another level. There were no slogs, it was just proper hitting. And it's not often that McCullum plays second fiddle!"
Shahzad was not the only hero in Gibbs' team on Wednesday.
Veteran Indian pace bowler Munaf Patel (3/20) came up with a clinical display to help Rajputs restrict Sindhis to 94/6. "Munaf is a bit of a senior citizen. I have played against him. Even at this age, he still has got that ability. He made a statement tonight. He bowled well and showed good control," said Gibbs whose team will play Pakhtoon in their next match on Friday.
S Watson (42), A Devcich (9), M Nawaz (9); M Patel 3/20, C Brathwaite 2/11
M Shahzad (74 not out), B McCullam (21 not out)
Rajputs won by 10 wickets