Onus on PCB to help bowlers like Shah flourish

Liaqat Ali/Dubai
Filed on November 22, 2019
Pakistan's 16-year-old fast bowler Naseem Shah bowls during the first Test (AFP)

Naseem definitely has what it takes to serve the country with distinction

The cricketing world will forever be indebted to Pakistan for its knack of producing quality fast bowlers. Earlier most of the Pakistan fast bowlers emerged from Punjab, with bowlers like Fazal Mahmood, Sarfraz Nawaz, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar writing their names in history books.

But remarkably, it's now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the most backward provinces in the country, that has taken the lead when it comes to producing exciting young pace bowlers.

Four of the five fast bowlers - Shaheen Shah Afridi, Imran Khan, Musa Khan and Naseem Shah - touring Australia with the Pakistan team belong to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

And the talk of the town is Naseem, a 16-year-old boy from the border area of KP which was earlier called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

It's the most volatile area bordering Afghanistan and a hotbed of militancy. It is not less than a miracle for a player to emerge from a region that has no cricketing infrastructure.

Naturally, Naseem had to overcome great obstacles and even his father was not ready to allow him to play cricket.

His elder brother spotted his talent and persuaded him to shift to Lahore, but the hardships travelled with him.

He joined a cricket academy run by Pakistan legend Abdul Qadir and stayed at a hostel. The penniless Naseem had nothing to fall back upon in the cultural capital of Pakistan.

But lady luck smiled on him as he was invited by the Pakistan Cricket Board for under 16 trials and caught the eye of former Pakistan opener and National Cricket Academy director, Mudassar Nazar. He toured Australia with the under 16 team and impressed all and sundry with his performance.

He was picked by the Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League, but a back injury forced him to sit on the bench as Mohammad Hasnain took his place. He has only seven first class matches under his belt and his inexperience was evident when his no-ball blunder in the first Test against Australia let David Warner off the hook on Friday.

Head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis fast tracked him into the national side and threw him to the wolves in Australia.

Naseem, the youngest player to make his Test debut in Australia, will be up against Steve Smith, the best batsman in the world, on Saturday when the home team resume their first innings.

Naseem faced a Virat Kohli-like situation recently. In 2007, a teenage Kohli, a day after his father's death, went out and saved Delhi's Ranji Trophy team from an embarrassing defeat in an Indian first class match with a memorable 90.

Naseem's mother passed away during Pakistan's tour game against Australia this month. But he chose to stay back and carried on playing the tour match.

He was unable to take the field on second day of the three-day match. The schoolboy bowled brilliantly to take 1-21 in the second innings, including the wicket of Test opener Marcus Harris.

A couple of catches were dropped off his bowling. He bowled eight overs and impressed everybody and the Australian commentators were of the view that Pakistan have found a serious talent.

Both the captains - Azhar Ali and Tim Paine - have acknowledged Naseem's ability.

But now the real test begins.

We have seen in recent years how Pakistan's cricket system has failed to turn gifted fast bowlers like Mohammed Amir and Junaid Khan into world beaters.

Naseem has the talent. But will he join the likes of Imran, Wasim and Waqar or become a new Amir or Junaid?

If Pakistan manage to get the best out of him, Naseem definitely has what it takes to serve the country with distinction.


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