Shoaib Malik first played tape-ball cricket in the streets as a child. He began to take playing cricket seriously in 1993/94 when he attended Imran Khan's coaching clinics in Sialkot. He began as a batsman only developing on his bowling later. He used to get in trouble with his family for playing cricket, as they wanted him to focus on his education. In 1996, Malik attended trials for the U-15 World Cup. He was selected in the squad for his bowling.
In May 2001, Malik's bowling action was inspected. The PCB group of bowling advisers concluded that his stock off-spinner was legal, although his delivery going the other way was not. He was encouraged to concentrate on his off-spin and to practice bowling his other delivery without bending his arm. In a One Day International (ODI) against England in June 2001, Malik suffered a fractured right shoulder after falling awkwardly while attempting to take a catch.
Malik was approached by Gloucestershire County Cricket Club in July 2003 to act as a replacement for Ian Harvey, who was on international duty with Australia. John Bracewell, the club's director of cricket, commented that he was "excited by the prospect of signing an international spinning all-rounder to replace Ian during the Cheltenham Festival and the C&G semi-finals. He will add a new and refreshing dimension to the squad ... which is in keeping with our playing philosophy to both win and entertain". He sufficiently impressed in two County Championship and three one-day matches that resulted in renewing of his contract for the 2004 season. Mark Alleyne, the club's head coach, remarked that "Shoaib did very well for us last year in the short time he was with us and fitted in very well. He is a gifted all-rounder who is worthy of a place in either discipline and as a 21 year old, he can only get better and I am really pleased at having him in my squad". Over the course of his two seasons at Gloucestershire, Malik played eight first-class matches, scoring 214 runs at an average of 17.83 with two fifties and taking 15 wickets at an average of 45.06, with best bowling figures of 3/76. He also played twelve one-day matches, scoring 345 runs at an average of 43.12 with three fifties and taking 10 wickets at an average of 47.60, with best bowling figures of 3/28.
In October 2004, Malik was reported to the International Cricket Council (ICC) for having a "potentially flawed bowling action"; eight months later, his action was cleared. In the intervening period, Malik was used mainly as a batsman. He was also given a one-Test ban by the Pakistan Cricket Board after admitting to deliberately losing a Twenty20 match for the Sialkot Stallions against Karachi Zebras to knock Lahore Eagles out of the 2004–05 ABN-AMRO Twenty-20 Cup. The inquiry concluded that the incident "damaged Pakistan's cricketing image and had shown disrespect to the crowd", but that "his actions were not part of any match-fixing with no financial implications, but were an immature attempt to express his disappointment at earlier decisions in the competition that he felt went against his side".
During his Test career, Malik has batted at 5 different positions and has the unusual record of batting at every position except 11th in ODIs. Pakistan's problems in finding a reliable opening pair have led to Malik being used as an opener in Test and ODI matches. In Test cricket, he made a big impression with his match-saving innings against Sri Lanka in 2006, during which he batted for the whole day and finished with 148 runs not out. His bowling has been effective at times, especially in one-day cricket where his best bowling figures are four wickets for 19 runs (4/19) in addition to many 3-wicket hauls.
On the international stage Malik struggled in England. In 12 ODIs across four tours between 2001 and 2006 he scored 98 runs at an average of 8.16, with just two scores above 20, far below his career ODI average of 34.35. Of people who have played at least eight ODIs in England, Malik's is the furthest below his overall average.
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