Shaheen Afridi: Pakistan's latest pace prodigy off the production line
By David Currie
Last Updated: 16/06/20 7:30pm
Who are cricket's emerging talents? Every Wednesday, we will focus on 'the next big thing' in the sport and this week it's teenage Pakistan left-arm pace prodigy Shaheen Afridi...
Shaheen Shah Afridi is one of the latest to come off the seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of raw, rapid Pakistan fast bowlers.
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Far from it being a 'once in a generation' game for Pakistan, they've produced near enough double-figures' worth of pedigree pace bowlers over the past three or four decades - and ones who've mastered their craft on the generally unhelpful, dry, slow surfaces of back home.
Shaheen is among the new crop coming through.
He's not as young as recent, record 16-year-old debutant Naseem Shah, but at just 20 years old, he too is in the infancy of his international career, and perhaps the two could grow to form as formidable a pair as fellow left-right combo Wasim and Waqar before them.
Both Shaheen and Naseem have been named in the 29-man Pakistan touring party set to tour England later this summer - though with the exact schedule yet to be announced.
And it was on these shores last summer where Shaheen really came of age as an international bowler.
In the five-match ODI series serving as a warm-up to the 2019 World Cup, Shaheen was spanked to all parts by England's batsmen in the 4-0 hammering by their hosts, with the left-arm quick conceding a whopping 8.16 runs an over and taking only five wickets, at an average of 49 apiece.
Four of those wickets came in the very final game, the dead rubber at Headingley, after Shaheen had been dropped for the fourth ODI at Trent Bridge having going wicketless in the third at Bristol; he conceded over 80 runs in every innings he bowled in.
It meant there was no spot in the side for Shaheen in each of Pakistan's opening three World Cup games but, with the team on the brink of elimination, he showed signs of the skills that had him considered such a prospect when playing two out of their next three games.
Up against Australia's in-form top order - well-placed at 218-2 after 33 overs - Shaheen would first dismantle Glenn Maxwell's sumps with a quick, full and straight yorker that would soon become his tournament trademark and added David Warner's wicket a few overs later.
With Shaheen leading from the front, Pakistan pegged Australia back to a getable 308-run target, only to make a mess of the run-chase. Against South Africa, however, Shaheen would finally remember the taste of victory.
It was to be the start of a four-match unbeaten run from Pakistan, one that very nearly saw them sneak into the knockout stages via the back door and at the expense of hosts, and ultimate winners, England. Shaheen was at the heart of it.
In the next three games, wins over New Zealand, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, Shaheen claimed a staggering 13 wickets at the cost of just 110 runs and a bowling average of 8.46!
His figures of 6-35 to finish were the best-ever by a Pakistan bowler at a World Cup, beating those storied names from the conveyor belt before him, while they were the best of any bowler in the 2019 tournament.
His final 16-wicket tally catapulted him into the top 10 leading wicket-takers for competition, despite him playing at least three fewer games than anyone else, while Chris Woakes - who he tied with - played a whole five games more.
Suddenly, the world knew the name Shaheen Shah Afridi.
So much so, that just a couple of months later, he was picked to partner Woakes for Birmingham Phoenix in the inaugural tournament of The Hundred this summer - drafted for a cool £60,000.
That tournament has since been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Shaheen will still get a chance to show off his searing pace and considerable skill this summer, against England. A chance for redemption against the hosts.
Shaheen has featured in each of Pakistan's' five Test matches played since the conclusion of the World Cup, taking 18 wickets at an average of 25.66, including a maiden five-for against Sri Lanka in Karachi, in the home series win in December.
That said, in the 29-man touring party picked for England, Pakistan also have experienced heads Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Abbas - both of whom have enjoyed success here - as well as Naseem and, another young bowler of much repute, 20-year-old Mohammad Hasnain, form part of their pace arsenal.
Shaheen will surely play, although the Covid-19 circumstances surrounding any series will likely lead to rotation.
But when the conveyor belt rolls round his way, England best be warned.