This is not a hoax, this is Shan Masood

No longer shocking and probably not a hoax, how Masood rebuilt his game to make it as an opener.

The email shocked me, I thought it was a hoax. The contents, and the fact I had received it at all. Especially as the sender had the same name as a Test Cricketer and was acting like it was them. It was weird, because I'd had no contact with this player, and that's not how players get in touch. They do it via WhatsApp or a DM on a social media platform. Or through a shared acquaintance, and occasionally at a hotel bar - then you are in trouble.

But this was different, it was written in full sentences. Obviously, they had spent some time. There were several questions, a request to have a chat and someone who was reaching out to a journalist to improve his game. It had been read, edited, and checked again before sending.

It couldn't be real, so I asked a friend who might know if the email was legit, and it was. Shan Masood had requested some help with his career.

I'd almost completely eradicated Masood from my mind. He'd been a punchline for me, coming from the 1% of Pakistan society, he seemed like a throwback to the bad old days where a posh accent got you into the team quicker than good batsmanship. Plus, he was terrible in the UK when I saw him. There was little in his record or technique that suggested he was a Test player. It was quite clear he couldn't score from the ball just outside off, and his way around this was this squat push into the covers. From the press box I could see the saliva dripping off the slips when he attempted it. And attempted is the right word; not sure he ever completed one.

This is what I told him when we met. My theory for many years has been that if you can't score from the ball just outside off stump; you can't be a Test batsman. At Test level you can't just hang in and wait the way you can in first class. One of my favourite cases of this was Sam Robson versus Suranga Lakmal at Headingley. The longer Lakmal had Robson pinned, the more obvious it was Robson would struggle at this level, even as he made a hundred. Masood and I talked about that, and his shot pushing the ball into the covers. At that point he was averaging 17 when seamers bowled a decent length outside off stump. Scoring at 1.5 runs an over. Masood told me he'd work on the shot what I suggested; I told him to YouTube watch a lot of Joe Root or Kane Williamson's off side deflections. But in truth, I had no idea if he could do it; I was happy someone was listening to my theory.

But we also talked about expectation. Masood was desperate to make runs in the UK, he'd been educated there, and it held a special place for him. And he told me he came in thinking he wanted to average 50 in that first series. I smiled and informed him that while that he might think it was possible, he should have aimed for 30 and 100 balls. And if that seems like something low to aim for, here, let me use the words of someone who has lived this life, Michael Atherton, upon watching Masood today. "Not easy for an opener in English conditions on this track".

Not everyone agreed.

Interestingly enough, Yasir's career strike rate was 57, or 3.4 an over. Yasir would later say that against the new duke is the easiest time to bat. The slightly older duke ball is tough, you can't argue that. But he's kidding himself if he thinks opening in England is ever easy.

Last five years all openers in the world are averaging almost 37. In the UK that is 31. For overseas openers in the UK that is 26.

So my 30/100 number sounds easy, but that 30 is a 15% increase on what openers usually average. But the 100 balls is actually the trickier part. Before today, no overseas opener had batted first and lasted 100 balls since 2016.

And this isn't exactly new, a lot of us know about this whole struggling to open in England thing.

So let's look at the same graph we saw from before, but add balls per innings.

You can see that all openers globally and England guys at home average the same, but the difference is the deliveries they face. And that is in the era of Nightmare on Elm Street for English openers. And yet still, they grind, because that's the job in the UK. It's why David Warner, Alex Hales and Jason Roy weren't suited to the job and Chris Rogers was.

But if England have one advantage, it's that they don't have to face bowlers who have been scientifically designed for the home conditions. So it's worth looking at why it's been tough to open against England of recent times. Here are two names I picked at random.

As you can see, Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson have been incredible against opening batsmen.  Add to that that Stuart Broad has been eating left-handers and Anderson had taken Masood's wicket six times in 57 balls averaging 2.5 coming into this Test (There may be typos in this piece, but that last sentence is correct). It's almost impossible to average that low against a bowler, you'd expect the new ball to have evaded slips a few times if he was edging that often.

Everything was made for him to fail, but he didn't. I mean, it wasn't pretty, but we brought Babar Azam for the aesthetics, not Masood. His control percentage was 79%, suggesting a mistake every five balls. Jos Buttler missed him not once, but twice. But his was a victory once he passed 100 balls. No, it was a victory that he ever got selected to bat in England again.

There are so many experts Masood has been involved with, his comeback is down to his hard work and the financial security his family provides. He has scoured the cricket world for the best information, coaching and advice he can find. Probably even he would struggle to remember how many people he consulted while he was out of the game. I was one of a long list, more of an extra than a cameo. This is all him. All he knew was he wanted to succeed in Tests, and to do that he wouldn't stop asking questions until he understood how. And he did all this knowing that he could waste his time, that perhaps what many of us first thought - that he wasn't good enough - was right.

We still don't really know. This could be it, the absolute zenith, a classy tour of SA, some decent work against Australia, back-to-back hundreds in Pakistan and then this fighting first day against England when Anderson finally didn't get him. But in these nine comeback Tests he's proven something to himself at first, and innings by innings, to everyone else. It could all end quicker than a late Jimmy Anderson inswinger. This could be it, but no one expected this to begin with.

Oh, remember that outside off stump problem where he was not even imitating a Test batsman the first time he played. He now averages 43 and scores at 2.6 an over. That's more than double his old average, and an extra run an over in scoring. Players don't make changes like that often.

But he's already proven something. Self-improvement is a buzz term, but the people who really commit, who open themselves up, who say, I don't know, who ask, filter, and will try to change, they can do incredible things. You might think, well, he's a professional athlete, with money behind him, ofcourse he would do anything to get better. But they don't. Some don't have the courage to change what got them to the big leagues, others feel ashamed asking for help and almost none would contact a journalist they don't know who used to make fun of them to get advice. Masood has done almost everything he can to make it, and that is more of an effort than actually making it.

Today Shan Masood made 46* from 158 balls. It doesn't sound like much, but it's more than 30 runs and 100 balls on the first day of a Test in a tough place to against two men who should be ideal to destroy him. Whatever Masood is, it's certainly not a hoax.  And it's also not shocking anymore, now we're starting to expect it.

Here is Jon and I doing a podcast on the day’s play.