PSL 2018: Why Shaheen Shah Afridi is a star in the making
When Fazal Mahmood heralded Pakistan's entry into the big league during the 1950s, little did he know of the aftereffects of his exploits with the ball. The great man lit a fire which has been burning resplendently over the years.
Fast bowling is more than just an aspect of cricket for Pakistanis. It is widely cherished as a 'national obsession'. A cursory glance at the maidans of Lahore or the narrow by-lanes of Karachi will allow one to bask in the jazba of countless dreamers who exist for the sole purpose of bowling fast.
From the wily Sarfraz Nawaz and charismatic Imran Khan to the magical skills of Wasim Akram and destructive prowess of Waqar Younis, the quicker men are always the stars in Pakistan. Following the retirement of the astonishingly quick Shoaib Akhtar and fall of the artful Mohammad Asif, there was a conspicuous absence of the quintessential front-man.
The exuberant Hasan Ali triggered Pakistan's imagination by playing a starring role in their Champions Trophy ambush last year. If early indications are anything to go by, there is a newer entrant who can potentially go on to add yet another chapter to the nation's enviable legacy of fast bowling.
Following a lackluster start to the 2018 season of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), Shaheen Shah Afridi's scintillating spell not only ended Lahore Qalandars' drought but also marked his entry among the big boys.
Storming into the limelight
After announcing himself with a remarkable spell of 8/39 on first-class debut during September last year, Shaheen was one of the players to watch out for in the 2018 U-19 World Cup.
Although his team were knocked out by eventual champions and arch-rivals India in the semifinals, Shaheen enhanced his reputation by regularly troubling opposition batsmen in the tournament. With his lanky physique giving him an advantage, the left-arm seamer showed tremendous promise.
From five matches in the tournament, Shaheen picked 12 wickets at an impressive average of 14.58 and parsimonious economy-rate of 3.58. Beyond numbers, his propensity to extract extra bounce at disconcerting pace attracted the attention of distinguished legends of the game.
During the semifinals, India U-19 coach Rahul Dravid further motivated him by imparting generous words of praise. Shaheen would later reveal to Gulf News about the magnanimity of the batting icon.
The youngster recently quipped, "I am so happy that (Rahul) Dravid supported me and I am grateful to him for having spoken to me many times. That was a big boost for a youngster from a senior player and I would like to specially thank him on this occasion."
A star in the making
Having lost all of their first six matches in the 2018 PSL season, Lahore Qalandars were in a state of utter disarray. Skipper Brendon McCullum made no attempt at hiding his displeasure and publicly rebuked the players for the team's horror run. Shaheen answered his captain's call by rising to the occasion.
On a conducive surface at Dubai, Shaheen delivered the most eye-catching spell in the short history of the PSL thus far. He tore through the lower-middle order to blow away a strong Multan Sultans lineup for a paltry total of 114.
At the end of the 15th over, Multan were positioned at 97/3. A strong finish would help them arrive at a competitive total. However, Shaheen had other ideas. Bowling at full tilt, the young pacer picked up five wickets at the cost of just four runs. In what was a breathtaking spell of 22 deliveries, he singlehandedly doused the opposition's hopes and paved the way for Lahore's maiden victory in the season.
Upon utilising the back of length area to keep Shoaib Malik on tenterhooks, Shaheen capitalised on the pressure by further shortening the length against the charging right-hander. The extra bounce proved too much to handle for the seasoned batsman.
Shaheen's next delivery carried a touch of the vintage Pakistani pacer. A late-swinging yorker, sent down at rapid pace, castled an unsuspecting Ross Whiteley. Although he prevented the hat-trick, Saif Badar could not do anything against the left-armer's off-putting length.
Those three wickets in the space of just four deliveries derailed whatever momentum possessed by Multan. Shaheen polished off the tail in the last over of the innings and finished with his maiden five-wicket haul in the shortest format of the game. His splendid spell allowed Lahore's batsmen to chase down the meager total without breaking much sweat.
At the end of the game, Multan Sultans coach Tom Moody affirmed, "He (Shaheen) is an exciting prospect, he is tall and has got some pace and will get quicker and has the spirit that I like. He is certainly one to look out for the future and to nurture. At this age, he will have some challenges, but he is certainly the one to nurture."
Suffice to say, Shaheen has caught the eye of intellectually sound personalities in the cricket community. Extrapolating from his immense potential, we may just be witnessing the evolution of a star in the making.
More pertinently, he has expressed his ambition to shine in Test cricket. In an era wherein senior players are ready to shed their whites for the razzmatazz of the white-ball stuff, the 17-year-old's affinity for the purest format comes across as music to the connoisseur's ears.