Hyderabad: Saud Shakeel was nowhere near World Cup selection three months ago but a thrilling half-century in Friday's win over the Netherlands underlined his remarkable and rapid rise up the cricketing ladder.
Shakeel actually made his ODI debut in England in 2021 but he was largely out of the reckoning until he cracked an impressive double century in a Test in Sri Lanka in July.
The diminutive 28-year-old, originally seen as a Test specialist, was included in Pakistan's squad for the three-match series against Afghanistan in August but he played only one match where he scored just nine.
The team management, however, led by strategy and analytics manager Hasan Cheema and manager Rehan-ul Haq, backed him and convinced chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq to retain him for the Asia Cup.
Pakistan crashed out of the tournament with defeats against India and Sri Lanka in the tournament.
Perhaps not playing in a single match did Shakeel a favour - he was included in the 15-man World Cup squad in place of allrounder Faheem Ashraf.
Shakeel showed glimpses of what he can do in the warm-up match against New Zealand with a gritty 53-ball 75.
On Friday, he became the toast of Pakistan's batting with an innings-reviving 52-ball 68 studded with a six and nine boundaries, guiding Pakistan to a fighting 282 after a precarious 38-3.
"I am very pleased to help my team win," said Shakeel at the post-match ceremony. "I tried to follow my basics and be positive for my team despite having early nerves."
Shakeel added 120 for the fourth wicket with Mohammad Rizwan who also scored 68.
Pakistan then dismissed the Netherlands for 205 in 41 overs to kick-start their World Cup campaign with an 81-run win.
Shakeel admitted he was lucky at the start.
"I was lucky to get early boundaries," said the left-hander. "We (with Rizwan) discussed that the pressure would transfer if we score, which did happen."
'Next big star'
Before his Test baptism against England in December last year, former Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed had predicted Shakeel would make his mark.
"Shakeel has the skill and temperament to become a successful star," Sarfaraz said last year. "Take my word, Shakeel will be the next big star for Pakistan."
Shakeel was the stand-out performer for Pakistan in an otherwise 3-0 annihilation by England who carried on their fiery Bazball approach of demolishing the opponents.
Shakeel scored 346 in six innings - second highest from Pakistan after Babar Azam's 348.
An unbeaten maiden Test century against New Zealand in Karachi in January put him on track but the double hundred against Sri Lanka changed his Wold Cup fortunes.
So consistent has been Shakeel's scoring that he became the first batter in Test cricket's 146-year history to pass 50 in each of his first seven Tests: his remarkable record, in fact, stands at six half-centuries and two centuries at a Bradmanesque average of 87.50.
"I've been working hard," said Shakeel. "I knew I'd be batting No. 5, I tried to improve my shots, attacking options and be brave. The coaching staff has given me confidence."
And he duly dedicated his man-of-the-match award to his domestic team coach Hanif Malik.