“I like the coach, Jurgen Klopp.”
Discussing football isn’t the usual place to strike up a conversation with a Pakistani fly-half, but to know a little about Abdullah Shafique is to understand his attraction to Klopp’s Liverpool.
“It’s his coaching mentality and his attitude towards the game,” Shafique told BBC Sport.
Just seven matches into his Test career, 23-year-old Shafique has shown the kind of characteristics that would fit into the team Klopp likes to call ‘the monsters of mentality’.
Averaging nearly 67, the right-hander already boasts two hundred and four fifty, nade via an old-school approach to opening the bat has his strike rate below 40.
Since making his debut in November last year, only Joe Root has faced more Test deliveries than Shafique – and the England batter has gone 15 more innings. In the three matches due to start in Rawalpindi on Thursday, England and their fans may have to get used to watching Shafique beat.
“My nature is that I have to fight until the end,” says Shafique. “If I hit or play, I have to stay there and fight. That’s my thing.”
These are not just words; Shafique has the file to back it up. In an admittedly small sample of five shots, he averaged 93 in the fourth round of testing.
In March, he beat nearly eight hours for a 96 that Australia denied in Karachi. Even better was his 160 pace out, made from 408 deliveries, in a 342 chase to beat Sri Lanka at Galle in July, one of the best fourth-inning efforts ever.
As England ponder how to take 20 wickets on flat Pakistani grounds, they may fear they need a crowbar to pry Shafique out of the crease.
Nor is it that Shafique only knows one way.
He rose to prominence at the age of 20 in his first professional T20 cricket match. With the television cameras watching, Shafique crashed 102 paces in Central Punjab’s 201 pursuit to beat South Punjab.
The hundreds of starts were also nothing new for Shafique. Ten months earlier, he had done the same for Central on his First Class arc.
“Since that T20 round, I was in the limelight,” he says. “Everyone knew a lot about me.
“Nobody notices you if you can’t perform in the big events. The challenge became more difficult after this round because the expectations were higher and I had to meet them.”
Cricket runs in Shafique’s blood. His father, Shafiq Ahmed, played first-class cricket and his uncle Arshad Ali represented the United Arab Emirates in four one-day internationals.
He hails from Sialkot, a city in the east that has a rich tradition of producing Pakistani cricketers and a huge kit-making industry. If you’ve played cricket at any level, chances are you’ve come across something crafted there.
Still, given his heritage and upbringing, Shafique admits he was a relative laggard in the game. Most Pakistani boys have their hands on a bat before the age of 12.
He progressed through the national age groups and the Pakistan Under-19 team, and his rise to the full national team was swift – his T20 debut came less than two months after those swashbuckling for Central and his Test debut was only his fourth first class. match.
For now, his international focus is focused on test cricket. He attributes his development to the highest level to Pakistani skipper Babar Azam and former coach Misbah-ul-Haq.
“They are very good human beings, very good guys,” Shafique says. “They are real hard workers. They don’t waste their time in the net – they are very focused. They are very punctual. I learned good things from them.
“They gave me a lot of knowledge. How to play late, in front of you. How to be patient. They taught me good form, good balance.”
Shafique clearly listened. Technically correct, with a small shuffle in the crease, he prefers to score offside. Its cover disc could be framed and hung in the Louvre.
He is now set to face an England attack who will take the field in a Test in Pakistan for the first time in 17 years. Shafique may be the most complete fly-half Pakistan has produced in this era.
“It’s something special because we’ve seen them on TV,” says Shafique. “It’s an opportunity for me to do well so everyone can see my performance.
“It’s exciting to play against bowlers like James Anderson, Mark Wood and Ben Stokes. They’re tough opponents.”
If his batting exploits weren’t enough, Shafique also became an internet hit singing and playing guitar – a hobby he picked up during the Covid lockdowns.
“I didn’t have much to do, so I had enough time to start playing guitar. Little by little, I picked up the skills,” he says.
With the Pakistan and England sides spending so much time together off the pitch in December, Shafique is considering a duet with fellow guitarist Root.
“If he wants to play, we’ll definitely have a session. I like watching him hit – he’s very good,” Shafique said.
Shafique is very good too, as Root and England might be about to find out.