New ‘fast’ kid on the block: Pakistan’s Shaheen Afridi ready to torment batsmen

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty
| Dubai |

Published: September 23, 2018 3:43:52 am

Afridi was drafted into the playing XI against Afghanistan on Friday at the expense of Mohammad Amir.

His figures read: 3.4-1-4-5. It was one of the most devastating and economical spells of bowling T20 cricket ever witnessed. Shaheen Afridi of Lahore Qalandars had scythed through the Multan Sultan batting in the second edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in Dubai earlier. And as he expectedly became the hero of the match, the teenage fast-bowling sensation thanked Rahul Dravid.

“I’m grateful to him (Dravid) for having spoken to me (during the U-19 World Cup). That was a big boost for a youngster from a senior player, and I would like to specially thank him on this occasion,” Afridi was quoted as saying.

The 18-year-old has seemingly developed an uncanny knack for impact performances. Last year, when he made his first-class debut in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the left-arm pacer returned with 8/39 in the second innings, playing for Khan Research Laboratories against Rawalpindi.

On Friday, Afridi made his ODI debut in the Asia Cup Super Four match against Afghanistan and took 2/38 in 10 overs. It could well have been a five-for. Three catches went down off his bowling.

Little wonder then that former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif was full of praise for the youngster. “He is a very talented bowler, but if they (selectors) were to pick him for the Asia Cup, they should have taken him to Zimbabwe as well. That would have set him up nicely for the Asia Cup. But he is a good bowler and I think he will cope with the pressure of an India game (on Sunday),” Latif told The Sunday Express. “Boys from Landi Kotal are mentally tough. They don’t wilt under pressure easily,” he added.

India are the form team in the Asia Cup and their batting boasts of the likes of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and MS Dhoni. It could be a completely different ball game for Afridi. “He should concentrate on not giving the batsmen any room to free their arms. Afridi moves the ball. He extracts bounce off the deck. Also, he bowls good yorkers from around the wicket at the death,” Latif said.

Afridi was drafted into the playing XI against Afghanistan at the expense of Mohammad Amir. The latter has been going through a lean patch. But Latif is not happy with Amir’s exclusion. “Both should play. Amir is Pakistan’s best option in the death overs.”

The Landi Kotal boy

Landi Kotal is a town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. It was where he was born and raised. Those who followed his career from the beginning would tell you that he barely had the opportunity of playing on proper turf pitches while growing up. He came from a very humble background. Afridi, however, had an advantage. His brother, Riaz, played for Pakistan in the 2004 U-19 World Cup and then went on to play for the senior team. Although Riaz played just one Test, he did enough to inspire his younger sibling to get attracted to fast bowling.

“Riaz bhai was a Test cricketer, so watching him, I developed this liking for fast bowling. He says always follow the plan your team sets for you. Never let negative thoughts come to your mind. Always remain positive and concentrate on line and length, go after the wickets. He keeps in touch over the telephone even when I am on tour. He is my first coach after all,” Afridi told the International Cricket Council website during the U-19 World Cup earlier this year. Riaz is still Afridi’s personal coach.

For an 18-year-old, Afridi is very tall; six-and-a-half-foot. Bounce automatically becomes his key weapon. At the U-19 World Cup, he took 12 wickets in five matches, with an economy rate of a shade over three runs per over. It was where the youngster impressed Dravid, the India U-19 coach.

Afridi didn’t have a good game though against India in the semifinal, where Shubman Gill outshone everybody with a sublime hundred. But Dravid saw the spark in the Pakistan quick. “Rahul Dravid came to me after the match and said Shaheen has all it takes to be a future star and become a real asset to the national side,” Pakistan U-19 team manager was quoted as saying after the tournament.

The boy has now entered the man’s world. He will turn up for his biggest game yet tomorrow – a contest that separate the men from the boys.

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