Yasir Shah Joins Unique Club of Centurions Batting at Number 8
When Yasir Shah walked out to bat with Pakistan floundering at 89/6 in the second Test of his team's Tour of Australia, few would have expected him to offer a whole lot of resistance. The legspinner had averaged just 12 over his first 54 innings in Test cricket, and the best case scenario seemed to be for him to hang around long enough for Babar Azam to score a few runs. As it turned out, despite another terrific innings by Babar - this time he fell agonisingly short of a century with 97 - it was Yasir who would end the innings as the top runscorer as he defied his career statistics by putting together a not-so-chanceless 113.
But it would be unfair to put the innings purely down to luck - certainly Australia let him off the hook in uncharacteristic fashion a few times, as is inevitable when a lower-order batsman puts together a knock like this one, but for the most part Yasir batted like somebody with an average well in excess of 12. On 99, his heart must have dropped to the floor when he appeared to have repeated the mistake of Shane Warne - also a number eight - who holed out in the deep on 99 against New Zealand many years ago attempting to bring up the century in style. Warne was caught by Mark Richardson and never reached triple figures in his career, but Yasir got a little luckier as he tried to smack Josh Hazlewood back over his head a run away from the milestone, with the ill-timed on drive ultimately clearing mid on by a couple of metres.
The shot made Yasir the first Pakistan player since 2006 to score a century from number eight, when Kamran Akmal also made 113 - that one against India in Karachi. Kamran's century, of course, came as a little less of a surprise. He was a wicketkeeper batting at number eight courtesy of Shahid Afridi's presence in the team as an all-rounder, and someone who averaged 30.79 over the course of 53 Tests and scored 100 on six occasions. It's also just the seventh time in history that the feat has been achieved in Australia - the last time it happened was only a couple of years ago, but like in the case of Kamran Akmal, Wriddiman Saha's century was a little less surprising given he is a wicketkeeper-batsman.
And to cap it off, Yasir's average is the second-lowest in history for a player upon scoring a century - and he still has a chance to move into first, though that's probably a record he'd rather not have. In the esteemed first place is Jerome Taylor, who averaged 12.96 in 73 Test innings for the West Indies. You might remember that Yasir averaged just 12 prior to this innings, well below that of Taylor, but it received a massive boost and is now over 14, such is the beauty of scoring a century with such a low average.
Though it is a subjective measure, Yasir may also be able to lay claim to the dubious record of one of the most erratic Test matches of all time. With ball in hand - which is what he is in the side for - Yasir, an experienced bowler with over 200 wickets and an average of 29.16, ended with the worst figures of his career. As Australia rampaged their way to 589/3 courtesy of a triple century from David Warner, Yasir was battered from pillar to post, finishing the innings without a wicket and having conceded a massive 197 runs at over 6 per over.
Alongside the rest of the Pakistan bowling attack - with the exception of Shaheen Shah Afridi, who picked up 3/88 - Yasir was no match for the Australian batting lineup, and after Australia declared and then reduced the visitors to 89/6, one of cricket's greatest routs seemed well and truly on the cards. Yasir's innings managed to prevent that, at least for a time, but despite his century and the 105 run stand he put on with Babar, Pakistan still fell 87 runs short of avoiding the follow on. It was enforced and they were quickly reduced to 20/3, but a 100-run fourth wicket stand has given them some chance of at least making Australia bat again - though they may need some more heroics from Yasir.