Naseem made sure we didn't feel Shaheen's absence, says Babar Azam

Naseem, born in Lower Dir, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, rattled India with his sheer pace and aggression

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Naseem Shah (centre) celebrates after dismissing KL Rahul. (AFP)
Naseem Shah (centre) celebrates after dismissing KL Rahul. (AFP)

James Jose

Published: Mon 29 Aug 2022, 10:05 PM

Coming into the DP World Asia Cup, it was felt that pace ace Shaheen Shah Afridi’s void in the line-up would be sorely felt, especially in the high-octane fixture against arch-rivals India.

After all, the tall quick had towered India the last time the two teams met at the T20 World Cup in Dubai last year.

Pakistan, well known for producing fast bowling gems, did have good pacers in the Asia Cup squad but a majority of them relatively young and with lack of experience.

But that didn’t stop them from uncovering another gem who would probably go on and serve Pakistan cricket for a long time.

Naseem Shah, all of 19, and making his T20 International debut, ensured that Pakistan didn’t miss Shaheen’s services.

Naseem, born in Lower Dir, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, rattled India with his sheer pace and aggression.

Opening the attack, Naseem’s raw pace saw Indian opener KL Rahul play on to his stumps off the second ball. He then posed questions to star Indian batsman Virat Kohli and Indian captain Rohit Sharma. Later on, Naseem disturbed Suryakumar Yadav’s furniture with a peach of a delivery.

Naseem was equally adept at the death, troubling the Indian batsmen despite battling cramps. And what stood out was his fighting qualities as, even though he was in pain during his spell at the death, Naseem soldiered on for his team.

Pace and aggression

And his skipper Babar Azam couldn’t have asked for more as he showered glowing praise on the youngster.

“Fast bowlers are always pumped up and they have a lot of aggression,” said Azam.

“We did miss Shaheen (Shah Afridi) but the way Naseem started, he made sure we didn’t feel Shaheen’s absence. Also at the death, he bowled extremely well,” he added.

Naseem is not new to international cricket. He has played 13 Tests since 2019, taking 33 wickets at an average of 36.3 and three One-Day Internationals with 10 wickets at an average of 11.1.

This should be just the start in what should be an illustrious career for Pakistan.

Take the game deep

Meanwhile, with a low-score to defend, Azam said that it was vital to take the game deep so that they stand a chance. And the Pakistan bowling attack, backed up by some tight fielding, did that and almost pulled it off.

“Our plan was to take the game deep, it would be better for us and the way Naseem bowled was fantastic. Even at the start, he was fantastic and he got us crucial wickets and he also bowled very well at the death. Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish with a positive result for our side. But, we also have to give credit to (Mohammad) Nawaz, the way he bowled that last over. It was a pressure game and unfortunately, we couldn’t get over the line,” said Azam.

Lack of partnerships

Put into bat, Pakistan didn’t do that bad but were hampered by the fall of wickets at regular intervals and the lack of a big partnership which would have seen them set a more competitive target. The highest partnership for Pakistan was 45 from 38 deliveries, stitched together by opener and wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan and Iftikhar Ahmed. Rizwan had earlier put on 27 with Fakhar Zaman.

“We couldn’t get any partnerships going. Had we got some good partnerships, that would have put pressure on the opposition. We had small partnerships but couldn’t manage a big one. That’s what we missed and also we didn’t utilise the end overs. But the way the tail batted — especially (Shahanawaz) Dahani and Haris (Rauf) — scoring us some crucial runs, helped us fightback a little bit. And while bowling we fought really well,” he felt.

Double-paced wicket

Azam felt it was a double-paced wicket and said even he would have opted to bowl first had he won the toss, after watching the tournament opener between Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

“The wicket was a bit double-paced. And after seeing yesterday’s match (Saturday), we had decided that if we won the toss, we also would have bowled. It did not happen but it is not an excuse. I felt we were short of a few runs from putting up a competitive total,” said Azam.

No regrets

They came so close to pulling it off until Indian all-rounder Hardik Pandya had other plans. Nonetheless, Azam said he had no regrets and was satisfied with the way the team fought till the end.

“There are no regrets. It depends on the effort that you put in. Toss doesn’t matter that much. What is important is the effort. Sometimes it happens that you could possibly win even with 120 on the board and you could also lose with 150 on the board. But it is part of the game and the way the team put in the effort, I felt it was satisfying,” the 27-year-old said.

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