“Hence, he will create pressure by keeping batsmen on tenterhooks. He will increase the pressure by shortening his length, and with the bounce that is produced, often this tactic has worked wonders”
As the inswinging yorker kept curling in to eventually sneak past the bat of Tom Latham to crash into the base of the off-stump during the second ODI, it became even more difficult to not trace the journey of Pakistani cricketers and their exploits with the ball over the years. From Fazal Mahmood in 1950, who can be considered as the first bowler to light a fire, to Sarfraz Nawaz and the charismatic Imran Khan, the Men in Green have often left the cricketing realm stumped with the consistency with which they produce young dreamers, whose only aim from a young age is to garner a place in the national team by bowling fast.
If Imran Khan was intimidating, the magic of Wasim Akram and the destructive prowess of Waqar Younis was daunting and even when the duo retired, the likes of Shoaib Akhtar – who could bowl astonishingly quick – or the wily Mohammad Asif ensured that the baton of fast bowling in Pakistan was carried forward.
With Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas and now Shaheen Afridi triggering the imagination by following what their predecessors were famed for in the last year or so, we can confidently state that the legacy of fast bowling in the country is all set for yet another glorious chapter.
The rise and rise of Shaheen Afridi
Shaheen was forced early on by his brother Riaz Afridi, who played one Test for the nation, to move away from tape-ball cricket to playing with a hard ball. He was first selected for his region in a talent hunt programme for Under-16 cricketers, where he became the leading wicket-taker for FATA with 12 wickets at an average of 16.17. However, the greatest recognition undoubtedly arrived when the national selectors called up the players who had left a mark at the Under-16 level for a camp, where the top-20 were selected by Imran Khan.
After two more weeks of intense training, only the top eight players for the future were shortlisted, with Shaheen earning special attention from the former maestro, who termed him as a superstar to watch out for.
However, it was his dream debut in first-class cricket just last year that capitulated him into instant fame. He turned out for Khan Research Laboratory against Rawalpindi in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy picking up 8 for 39 in 15 overs – the best figures for any bowler on debut. He eventually finished with 9 scalps in the game.
His lanky physique – he stands tall at 6 feet and 5 inches – helps him extract bounce at a phenomenal pace, and his maturity at the age of just 18 is astonishing to see. Not does Shaheen have a good bowling mind, his game awareness and the knowledge of what delivery to be bowled next remains pleasing.
Hence, he will create pressure by keeping batsmen on tenterhooks. He will increase the pressure by shortening his length, and with the bounce that is produced, often this tactic has worked wonders. The left-armer was especially dissected and studied by the Indian camp, coached by Rahul Dravid, during the Under-19 World Cup this year before the semi-finals between the two sides.
With India possessing as many as five right-handers in their top seven and with the conditions in New Zealand conducive for Shaheen to run riot, the Pakistani garnered special attention from the Indians, who knew how tough a left-armer could be.
“In terms of the uniqueness of left-armers and what they bring to the table in white-ball cricket in particular, is that you start over the wicket and if it’s not quite going to your plan, left-armers when they bowl this left-arm round the wicket, particularly to right-handers, have this unique angle, and things suddenly seem a lot different, particularly if the left-arm quick bowler swings the ball in the air”, Danny Morrison was quoted as saying during the tournament earlier this year.
And it is this angle, bowling from over the wicket, that has allowed him to wreak havoc over the years. In fact, the bowler credits his over the wicket bowling for the continued success that has come his way over the years. “There were times when I used to take 8 or 9 wickets playing for the U19 regional team by bowling over the wicket – so I have got a lot of wickets in an innings.”
By using the crease well and with an effective wrist he seems to have a settled action, which, according to Mushtaq Ahmed are his best attributes. “He has a great cricketing temperament and at a young was making a lot of sense with his field positions. His action is pretty repeatable and we didn’t really bother to work on it. It’s repeatable and that is what a coach wants to have in his bowler. He listens and picks things up very quickly.”
Though the player is just 5 ODIs old, all his 12 wickets that have come at an average of 17.58 have shown much promise and with a maiden Test call-up as well for the series against New Zealand, one can hope that the highly skilled cricketer can reach the same standards that his predecessors had.