SKout: Another Afridi who can shine for Pakistan?
The Quaid-e-Azam Trophy is Pakistan’s version of the Ranji Trophy. It has been held every cricketing season starting from the 1953-54 season. This season, the first round of matches began on 26th September. One of those matches was between Rawalpindi and Khan Research Laboratories.
Rawalpindi won the toss and batted first, being bundled out for just 174 in their first innings thanks to a brilliant spell of 6/50 from Yasir Ali. Amongst the other wicket-takers of Khan Research Laboratories, there was a 6 foot 6 inch 17-year old left-arm pacer who was making his first-class debut. His name was Shaheen Shah Afridi and he took one wicket on his debut innings, that of middle-order batsman Haseeb Azam.
In reply, KRL could put up only 131 despite reaching their 50 without the loss of a wicket. Their collapse was courtesy of some brilliant bowling by the Rawalpindi bowlers. Rawalpindi’s second innings witnessed a piece of brilliance in the history of Pakistan first-class cricket.
Debutant Shaheen Afridi bowled a dream spell of 8/39 to bundle out Rawalpindi for just 139. This was the best bowling figures by a Pakistan bowler on his first-class debut. The Rawalpindi batsmen were totally unable to play his lethal fast bowling as he was sending one batsman after another back to the pavilion.
Khan Research Labs went on to lose the match but Afridi’s spell was not to be forgotten. His spell has definitely put him under the radar of Pakistan cricket team’s chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Shaheen Afridi was born to a government officer in the Khyber Agency of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) in Pakistan. He is not related to Shahid Afridi but to another Afridi who has represented Pakistan in international cricket.
Shaheen’s older brother Riaz has played one Test match for Pakistan against Sri Lanka in 2004 at the age of 19 where he dismissed Sri Lanka’s middle-order nucleus Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. However, due to the presence of the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Mohammad Asif and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Riaz Afridi was never recalled to the Pakistan team despite producing a decent performance on his debut.
Early exposure to cricket
Shaheen’s youth cricketing career began when he was aged only 15, having being called up to the FATA U-16 trials in 2015 despite having played only tennis ball cricket. He played for FATA U-16s in PCB’s regional U-16 tournament where he ended as the top wicket-taker with 12 wickets.
U-16 Tour of Australia
As a result of his performance, Shaheen was told to appear in a camp for Pakistan’s U-16 team, which was practicing for their Tour of Australia on November 2015 that consisted of three ODIs and as many T20s. He was chosen in the 16-man squad and had a pretty decent outing in Australia, taking four wickets in all six matches combined while Pakistan won both series 2-1.
Following the Tour of Australia, Shaheen continued to impress as he took 19 wickets in PCB Cricket Stars’ U-16 tournament in 2016 and came under the radar of Pakistan’s U-19 selectors and was called into Pakistan’s U-19 camp which was gearing up for the ACC U-19 Asia Cup which was to be held in Sri Lanka the following year.
2016 U-19 Asia Cup
After performing brilliantly in the practice games, Shaheen was named in the squad for the tournament. He began the tournament brilliantly by taking 3/27 in Pakistan’s first game against Singapore. In the second match against Afghanistan, Shaheen disappointed with the ball, going for 84 runs from his 10 overs.
However, he impressed with the bat as he scored a 33-ball 48 which eventually ended in a losing cause as Pakistan fell short by 21 runs. In Pakistan’s final group game against Bangladesh, Shaheen took two wickets with the ball and Pakistan won the match but were unable to qualify for the semi-finals due to low net run-rate.
Continued consistency post-Asia Cup and BPL contract
The Asia Cup was a morale booster for Shaheen Afridi as his form bettered during the Inter-Region U-19 tournament this year where he topped the bowling charts with 21 wickets and was also the third highest-scorer for the FATA region with 154 runs.
Shortly after, the teenager played in the Regional District U-19 Championship where he took 29 wickets from four matches. As a result of these brilliant performances, Shaheen was given a two-year contract by Bangladesh Premier League franchise Dhaka Dynamites and with his brilliant first-class debut, he is sure to be a regular for the defending champions of BPL.
Afridi’s height is a major plus which can help him thrive on the bouncy pitches in Australia and he is capable of bowling in-swingers. However, Shaheen’s biggest strength is his out-swingers which has fetched him wickets frequently. He is also pretty fast with his coaches stating that he can bowl at speeds up to 90 mph.
Citing Wasim Akram as his idol, Shaheen has stated that he has frequently tried to copy Akram’s bowling action and this has helped him enhance his in-swinging ability. Bowling is Shaheen’s speciality but he considers himself to be an all-rounder who can also contribute with the bat. The lefty gave a little sample of his batting during the U-19 Asia Cup.
Shaheen has claimed his target is to play for Pakistan at next year’s U-19 World Cup and looking at his recent performances, he has a very good chance of making it. Provided Shaheen Afridi continues to be consistent and taking wickets at a prolific rate, we could well see him at the 2023 World Cup if not in 2019.