Standing at an imposing 6ft 6ins (1.98m), Shaheen Shah Afridi, the first-strike destroyer of India at the T20 World Cup, is the latest high-end product of Pakistan’s fast bowling factory – left-arm division.
From Wasim Akram to Mohamed Amir, with passing hat tips in recent years to the likes of Wahab Riaz and the giant Mohamed Irfan, Shaheen on Sunday devastatingly proved his star quality.
Unburdened by carrying the same name of one of his country’s iconic white-ball pioneers – as well as inheriting Shahid Afridi’s number 10 shirt – the 21-year-old shattered the hopes of India with a mesmerising spell of fast bowling. His 3-31 off four overs was the prelude to Pakistan finally ending their jinx against India with a first win in 13 attempts in World Cup competition.
“We give him the freedom to strike,” said Pakistan bowling coach and former South African fast bowler Vernon Philander yesterday.
“It’s an asset to have left-arm fast bowlers. Shaheen is such a wonderful talent.”
Even India skipper Virat Kohli, one of Shaheen’s victims in Sunday’s landmark 10-wicket rout, appreciated the impact of the bowler’s four-over blitz. “In T20 cricket you need good execution to pick up wickets with the new ball and he certainly did that,” Kohli said. “He put our batsmen under pressure and ran in with intensity.”
A blistering yorker pinned Rohit Sharma on the back foot for an lbw decision as cut-and-dried as any. KL Rahul followed, his T20 International average of 40 no defence against the velocity of the ball that swept through the gate and demolished his stumps.
“I don’t care what nick you are in, I don’t care how many runs you’ve got, you ain’t playing that,” said former England captain Nasser Hussain from the TV commentary box. Shaheen returned to see off Kohli for good measure.
It was a big-stage performance which echoed fellow left-arm fast bowler Amir’s brutal three-in-a-row dismissal of Sharma, Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan at the 2017 Champions Trophy final.
Shaheen is one of eight brothers who grew up in the Khyber Pass on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. One of those brothers Riaz – who played a single Test for Pakistan – inspired a passion for fast bowling.
“He (Riaz) keeps in touch over the telephone even when I am on tour. He is my first coach after all,” Shaheen told the ICC in an interview.
Graduating from the Under-19 World Cup in 2018, Shaheen made a headline-grabbing first class debut, taking 8-39 in the Pakistan domestic tournament.
He was picked for the Lahore Qalandars in the 2018 Pakistan Super League where he first faced his namesake, Shahid Afridi.
“He hit me for six first ball in the PSL, but with the next one I got him out. I was very happy about that,” he told cricinfo.com.
Shaheen made his Test debut in a defeat against New Zealand in December 2018.
But he has now played 19 Tests, taking 76 wickets at an impressive average of a shade over 25 with a best match haul of 10-94 against the West Indies this year.
Proving to be a master of all formats, Shaheen took 6-35 against Bangladesh in the 2019 50-over World Cup.
In franchise cricket, he picked up 6-19, including four wickets in four balls, playing for Hampshire in a T20 game against Middlesex last year. Not surprisingly, Middlesex have snapped him up for a large part of the 2022 English county season.
“Shaheen is a world-class pace bowler and a genuine match winner,” said Middlesex chief executive, Andrew Cornish.
Pakistan put India win ‘behind them’ ahead of New Zealand clash
Pakistan bowling coach Vernon Philander said yesterday that his team have already put their momentous win over India “behind them” as they prepare to face New Zealand, just 48 hours after securing a first ever victory over their neighbours at the T20 World Cup. “Obviously it was a brilliant performance by the team yesterday,” said Philander of the 10-wicket rout in Dubai.
“I think it also comes on the back of some hard work in the last two and a half weeks. So the boys are in a good space.”
Today, 2009 champions Pakistan play the Black Caps in Sharjah in their second match of the Super 12 stage. “We have highlighted the importance of really staying grounded,” said the former South African fast bowler.
“Last night was a massive win for all the boys, make no mistake about it.
“But we’ve also got a tournament at hand and the boys will stay focused. Really today’s team talk was about putting last night behind us and to focus on what’s obviously to come tomorrow.”
“It will be another big game and hopefully the boys will reset and be ready and focused.”
Pakistan will resist the temptation of changing a winning side against New Zealand but may bring in left-arm spinner Mohamed Nawaz in place of a fast bowler.
Meanwhile Kane Williamson hopes Pakistan will not hold any grudges over New Zealand abandoning a tour on security fears last month. Pakistan cricket authorities were left fuming after New Zealand ended the tour minutes before the start of the first one-day international in Rawalpindi, citing an unspecified security alert.
Williamson played down talk of a grudge match.
“There are a lot of good relations within the two teams. Over the years they’ve played a lot against each other, and a number of players have played with each other, as well,” said Williamson. “I am sure the game will be played in the right spirit.”
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