Teenage pace sensation Shaheen Afridi is all set to cap his meteoric rise with a Test debut for Pakistan in the third match against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi starting on Monday.
A shoulder injury to medium pacer Mohammad Abbas in the second Test in Dubai has paved way for Shaheen to make his mark in the last act of a gripping series which stands at 1-1.
“If I get a chance I will do my best,” Shaheen told AFP on Saturday. “I always had belief in my ability and in my hard work although I didn’t expect my chance will come in Tests so early.”
The 18-year-old left-arm quick made his mark in a domestic match in September last year, claiming eight wickets for just 39 runs in a Quaid-e-Azam Trophy game, the best figures by a Pakistan bowler on first-class debut.
The cricket world took notice of the 1.98 metre tall bowler who could hit the 90 miles per hour mark with the ball. Within 15 months he is already being compared to Australian pace spearhead Mitchell Starc and legendary Pakistan paceman Wasim Akram.
His rise to the Pakistan team began at home in Landi Kotal, a town in the Khyber District, close to the border with Afghanistan, where his elder brother Riaz who played one Test for Pakistan in 2000, gave him his first bowling lessons.
“My brother was my role model who taught me how to bowl and how to approach cricket with a positive frame of mind,” said Shaheen. “I owe my success to him.”
Riaz also taught his brother a few shots to the extent that he is considered a handy hard-hitting all-rounder.
Since his impressive first-class debut, Shaheen has continued to attract attention, finishing with 12 wickets at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand this year and then grabbing a five wicket haul in a Pakistan Super League match.
Shaheen graduated to Pakistan colours in the home Twenty20 series against the West Indies in March, but real success came against New Zealand in last month’s one-day series in which he claimed back-to-back four wicket hauls and finished as man-of-the-series.
Just like Wasim Akram, Shaheen has also played just three first class matches before his first Test.
“Test cricket is the ultimate so matching the great Wasim’s feat will motivate me a lot and just like I do in limited over matches, I will try to take wickets for my team to win the series,” said Shaheen.
After his early form last month Pakistan’s selection committee, headed by Inzamam-ul-Haq, named Shaheen in the Test squad for the New Zealand series with a view to developing him rather than playing him.
But Shaheen pressed his claims further when he took seven wickets – five of them clean bowled – in Pakistan A’s win over England Lions in their four-day match in Abu Dhabi last month.
That performance and Abbas’s injury pushed his chance earlier than expected.
“Our bowling coach Azhar Mahmood, coach Mickey Arthur and others have help me a lot and have worked very hard on me so I am ready to deliver my best.”
The three-match series is currently tied at 1-1 with New Zealand winning the first Test by four runs in Abu Dhabi and Pakistan achieving an innings and 16 runs win in the second in Dubai.