'Ugly shot' ends another promising Aslam innings

Sami Aslam nudges the ball into the leg side Getty Images

82, 70, 90, 44, 50, 74 - these are the high points of Sami Aslam's seven-match Test career so far. He is averaging 43.45, offering Pakistan what seems like a long-term solution to the opening conundrum they have faced over the years. He possesses everything an opener needs: composure, temperament, and the ability to hold one end up, and has got to double-figures nine times in 12 innings.

He always seems to bat with a great degree of sense, but his dismissals often don't make any sense: he was run out in his first innings in England, and in this series he has been bowled playing a premeditated sweep, bowled again trying to drive a legspinner against the turn, and, on Sunday, caught off the glove playing a reverse-sweep in the first over after tea.

In Pakistan, it is considered a crime if you don't convert your fifties into hundreds, and batsmen quickly earn reputations if they keep doing it. Club cricketers grow up with this thought drilled into them, and unconverted starts are often a cause for batsmen to get dropped at grassroots level.

Aslam was prolific at the Under-19 level, and is currently the second highest run scorer in U-19 ODI history with 1695 runs at 45.81. He has the most hundreds at that level: six. He is also the third-fastest batsman anywhere to 2000 List A runs. He was captain of the Pakistan U-19 side when they toured England in 2013, and made two centuries in the tri-series then, including 110 in the final against England, before catching the eye with another hundred in a victory over India in the 2013-14 Under-19 Asia Cup.

Outside Test cricket, Aslam has seven hundreds and only four fifties, suggesting the issue of not converting starts is a new one.

On day one in Sharjah, Aslam showed exactly why the selectors have rated him highly and shown patience with him even while he has struggled to convert his starts. His temperament was key - he wasn't expansive, but showed plenty of resilience to get through a tough situation, hanging on through a difficult first hour in which Shannon Gabriel removed Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq for ducks. It left Pakistan 2 for 1, and Aslam, only 20, carried on to make 74. It was an innings of many good qualities, but at the end of the day, particularly after a late collapse had Pakistan go from 230 for 4 to 248 for 8, the entire media contingent was talking only about his failed reverse-sweep and raising questions about his conversion rate.

Aslam didn't try to offer any rationale behind the enigma surrounding his unconverted starts. He said it was a combination of bad luck and, on occasion, his own shot selection letting him down.

"The way I started as an opener, the kind of start I got, I think I should have converted my good start into a big score," he said at the end of the first day's play, with Pakistan 255 for 8. "If you look at my record back home in domestic cricket, I have more hundreds and have a good conversion rate, so I am disappointed that I am not able make it here.

"There is no concentration lapse. If you see, I am scoring good runs, but I think bad shots are stopping me from getting a triple-figure score. Also this is my seventh Test, and if you recall, in England once I got run out, once I was unlucky, so I don't think there is any nervousness surrounding my batting. It's about me playing an ugly shot. I obviously think about scoring 100 after 50 but there is no pressure as such. I just think about scoring big runs but I think batsmen make mistakes and improve with very passing day, so I am trying to minimise my mistakes.

"Since the outfield is heavy, you have to play shots, and in the process batsmen do make mistakes in the rush. But at the same time you have to get runs and you can only do it by taking chances, otherwise it's difficult to score runs."

During the course of his innings, Aslam had his first major partnership with Younis Khan - 106 for the third wicket in 36.3 overs - and was involved in a mix-up early on while running between the wickets. Younis has the reputation of being a father-figure in the dressing room and a calming influence on youngsters.

"It was great batting with him," Aslam said. "It was my first major partnership with him and during the mix up he didn't scold me but gave me some advice about running between the wickets."