Afridi is the latest from the Pakistan stable, which produces brilliant pace bowlers out of nowhere. Not a great domestic structure, no IPL (PSL being a poor cousin), hardly any home international games – yet the romance of Pakistan pace refuses to fade away.
After the Akram era, we had a bit of Mohammed Amir and the odd burst of Wahab Riaz, but Shaheen’s first spell on Sunday was like the remake of an old classic which almost tasted the same as the original.
Shaheen has been around for a while and his match-winning performance against West Indies with the red ball a few days ago was noticed by those who still care to burn the midnight oil for good old Test cricket. But for the Indian cricket consumer, he was still a bit of an unknown quantity, because we don’t play Pakistan often enough.
Coming from the Khyber district of Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan, Shaheen, a Pashtun boy, had only played tennis-ball cricket till he was 15. But within two years, the paceman who is engaged to Shahid Afridi‘s daughter Aqsa, was playing for Pakistan in the U-19 World Cup. And the senior debut, too, didn’t take too long to happen.
A left-arm pacer who can bowl at more than 90 miles/hour is always an exciting commodity and it didn’t take too long for kids in Pakistan to emulate Shaheen’s unique style of celebration – kissing the fingers and stretching the arms, as if to embrace all the adulation.
On Sunday, the Indian fans too got a taste of that celebration as Shaheen swung in two at a furious pace getting Rohit plumb in front and uprooting the stumps of Rahul.
During the end of the innings, the 21-year-old revealed that in the practice games, he wasn’t getting the ball to swing back to the right-hander. “I worked in the nets on my swing, because it becomes difficult for me if it doesn’t swing. Early on, I just wanted to get wickets so it’ll be advantageous for my team,” Shaheen said.
Not too long ago, Shaheen, obviously excited by the pace he could generate, had a tendency to bowl a little short. It was corrected by the great Akram in Edgbaston when Pakistan were playing New Zealand in the 2019 50-over World Cup. “I asked him to change the length, he had been bowling too short. I told him to pitch the ball up and attack the batsmen, and he seemed to have listened to my advice,” Akram said, as Shaheen took 3-11 in his first seven overs in that match.
The paceman seemed to have followed up on the advice and bowled a similar length on Sunday. He revealed later that it was a set plan that worked well against Rohit and Rahul, even though Virat Kohli showed how to deal with it giving a bit of room.
But it all worked out well for Pakistan and it’s time for Shaheen to keep it going as they look to make the semis and try to get back the title they last won in 2009.