When Misbah-ul-Haq named the squad for the Tests against Australia, everyone was intrigued by the choices to lead the pace attack.
Shaheen Afridi, Musa Khan and Naseem Shah were three teenagers brought into the bowling attack with the promise of raw pace and the element of surprise.
To put things into perspective, going by their official ages, Afridi and Musa were nine years old while Shah was six when Pakistan won the ICC T20 World Cup.
Historically, Pakistan have always believed in a baptism by fire for their speedsters. There have been very few fast bowlers around the globe who have managed to bowl consistently at speeds more than 140kmph throughout their careers. Bowlers, owing to their workload and injuries, often operate at lesser speeds in an attempt to prolong their careers.
Pakistan thus seem to recognize the need to throw young guns into the deep end early on in their careers, while they’re at their quickest.
Pakistan’s philosophy has paid dividends in the past. Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Aquib Javed all made their debuts before they hit 20 and went on to enjoy illustrious careers. Akram and Younis are arguably two of the greatest to have ever played the sport and the masters of reverse swing. They were prominent bowlers for almost two decades and picked up more than 350 Test wickets each.
Mohammad Amir, who made his debut as a 17-year-old against Sri Lanka, made the world take notice with sensational pace and control that belied his age. He picked up five wickets in his first Test in Australia and later rattled England at Lord’s and at the Oval. In 2010, he seemingly had the world at his feet and him getting embroiled in a spot-fixing scandal was a tragedy for the game. When he did return after his five-year ban in 2015, he showed glimpses of his talent before opting to retire from the longest format in 2017 at the age of 27.
For every success story like Wasim Akram, there are players like Yasir Ali, Fazl-e-Akbar and Shahid Nazir who too began as hot young prospects but couldn’t quite cut it at the international level. Ali and Nazir dominated the domestic scene as teenagers and while Ali earned a solitary Test cap, Nazir went on to make 15 Test appearances and pick up 36 wickets. Fazl-e-Akbar’s career was hampered by injuries and he couldn’t quite deliver on the promise as he exited the international scene after playing five Tests for Pakistan.
The current crop of young guns in Australia is an exciting bunch. Shaheen Afridi, the left-arm pacer is the first player born in this millennium to represent his country. He is the most experienced of the trio having played 19 ODIs, 10 T20Is and three Tests. The lanky bowler is strikingly similar to his Australian counterpart Mitchell Starc, as he can not only bowl full and fast but also has a sharp bouncer in his arsenal.
Musa Khan and Naseem Shah have each played only seven first-class games in which they’ve snared 17 and 27 wickets, respectively. Musa impressed during the latest edition of the Pakistan Super League as he accounted for eight wickets and troubled batsmen with his searing pace.
Shah had a superb domestic debut when he picked up six for 59 in his first game of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. He was bereaved of his mother last week during Pakistan’s practice game against Australia A. After withdrawing from the game briefly, he returned on the final day to deliver an eight-over spell in which he had batsmen hopping with his aggressive brand of bowling.
Irrespective of what combination of fast bowlers Pakistan opt to play on November 21 at Brisbane, there will be at least one teenager in the line up. That is even if they opt to play both the senior bowlers, Mohammad Abbas and Imran Khan.
Naseem Shah would become the second youngest player after Aquib Javed to make his debut for Pakistan if he were to be selected.
Watching a young fast bowler tearing it up on a lively Brisbane pitch is as romantic as it gets in cricket and just for the sheer joy of it may Pakistan’s tryst with precocious pacers continue.
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