Mohammed Rizwan may be small but he looks like the kind of guy who rises to a challenge
The Pakistan wicketkeeper-batsman has had to wait and fight for a Test place – after making his debut in 2016 he didn’t get his second chance until three years later– and injury to Babar Azam meant he was thrust into a leadership position on the recent tour to New Zealand with only 10 Tests behind him.
He responded with three fifties in four innings – albeit in a losing cause – before adding a first century to his record in the second innings of the second Test against South Africa in Rawalpindi when no other Pakistan player reached 50.
And with perceived criticism of his ability to play the really big shots in the shortest format ringing in his ears, he set about proving the naysayers wrong with an extraordinary knock as opener in the first T20 international against South Africa on Thursday.
Talking after the match, in which he scored 60 per cent of his team’s runs as Pakistan won in a last-ball finish, he hinted at the malign words driving him on. “I have been hearing that I am a player who is unable to hit sixes,” he said after more than doubling his haul of smaximums in 18 previous T20 internationals. “But it is my belief that the Almighty is always helping me; I am planning and putting in the effort and doing my best to bring improvements in my shots.”
Not that he clubbed his seven sixes from the word go, having to consolidate after the early run-out of captain Babar Azam. He scored just seven from his first 11 deliveries, was at merely a run-a-ball by the time he got to 30 and made it to his half-century from his 35th ball before launching a late onslaught on the medium pace of Junior Dala that ended with him becoming only the second Pakistani to score hundreds in all formats.
“Because of the loss of Babar’s wicket, I had to slow down my strike rate as didn’t want to give my wicket away earlier on, but it picked up later,” he continued.
“There was some pressure on us at the start. We took time to read the pitch – we are told by our legends that one must always first read the pitch and then play according to the demands of that pitch – and if I hadn’t read the pitch right and the way the ball was gripping on that surface, I could have easily given my wicket away and this result may well not have happened.”
Rizwan insisted that reaching three figures was the thing furthest from his mind. “The only target in my mind was to score runs for Pakistan. I hadn’t given a thought to scoring my hundred.” he said. “If you look towards the end, I was dropped when I was on 96 and then on 98 as well. Never did I think that I should take the easy route and score two to get my hundred.
“All I was thinking about was that the target we were setting South Africa looked low and there was a need to play sixes and fours; what good would a hundred have been if the target [we] had planned for the side could not be achieved?”
It is a fair point and one that speaks of an old head – not only a resilient one – on what are still relatively young shoulders. It was only the second time the 28-year-old had passed 50 at T20 international level – he hit 89 against New Zealand shortly before Christmas. The common denominator? He was opening the batting after spending most of his T20 career floating around mainly in the lower middle order.
In this form – and with this determination – it is likely to be a while before anyone whispers negatively in his direction again.