LAHORE, Feb 01 (APP):It was at the start of April in 2018 when a lanky teenager by the name of Shaheen Shah Afridi received international cap from Pakistan legend Wasim Akram at Karachi’s National Bank Cricket Arena.
He had showed glimpses of brilliance in the last two months – during what was his maiden HBL Pakistan Super League season – that catapulted him to the national side.
The highlight was his five-wicket haul at Dubai against Multan Sultans, which saw him become one of the only two bowlers that season to bag five wickets in an innings.
Shaheen never looked back from that moment, establishing himself as an all-format bowler for Pakistan and, subsequently, the leader of the Pakistan bowling attack.
Such was his utility for Pakistan that before the first Galle Test in which he injured his right knee by landing awkwardly while attempting a dive at the boundary in July last year, he had taken the most wickets (204) behind Australia’s Pat Cummins’ 209 across all three international formats.
He was so lethal that his strike rate of 35.4 was the best in international cricket amongst the fast bowlers with at least a thousand overs.
The fourth morning of that Test, however, put a halt on an ever-progressing career. Shaheen was back in Pakistan colours in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia last year and his bowling form grew proportionally with the matches he played, before a freak twist while completing that famous Harry Brook catch at Melbourne in the final sent him back to rehabilitation.
While the sight of Shaheen limping off the field broke millions of Pakistani hearts, it was the beginning of a struggle for a bowler who since his Pakistan debut had done nothing but bowl in heaps.
“There were times when I wanted to give up,” Shaheen, who now has checked all the requisites for his return to competitive cricket, said on Wednesday . “I was working on only one muscle and it was not improving. Often during the rehabilitation sessions, I used to say to myself ‘this is enough, I cannot do this anymore’.
“But then I used to watch my bowling on YouTube and see how well I had done and that motivated me and I told myself ‘to push a little more’ … It is frustrating for a fast bowler to miss cricket because of an injury.”
While there is no good time to be injured, Shaheen’s had come at a time when Pakistan were scheduled for their biggest home season in over a decade with seven T20Is and three Tests against England followed by two Tests and three One-Day Internationals against New Zealand. Shaheen missed all 15 games.
“It is tough when you miss your home games because of the injury,” he says. “Before our Test home season, I even missed the seven England T20Is. I was more distressed for missing the Tests, because I like Test cricket more. A bowler is measured on how he performs in Test cricket and I wanted to take wickets against England.”
Was there any moment during the 2022-23 home season that made him want to get in the Pakistan colours? “It came when I was watching the [Multan Test] match and our tailenders were not able to finish the game.
I wanted to hit a few sixes there and finish the match for Pakistan,” he chuckles. “Also, when they [England] were scoring a lot of runs, I wanted to give my input with the ball.”
Shaheen made sure to remain in touch with the bowlers. “It is tough to switch from the white ball cricket to red ball cricket as the demands of the Test format are totally different from the limited overs.
I was in touch with the boys over phone. Naseem bowls really quick and mentally he is very sharp and understands he needs to be done. I used to speak with Haris Rauf daily. I remained in touch with our other bowlers as well, who played in the Tests.”
Amongst those who made their HBL PSL debuts in 2018, the Lahore Qalandars captain has the most wickets (70). He is third on the list of the highest wicket-takers in the tournament history behind Wahab Riaz (103) and Hasan Ali (81) who have played 27 and 14 more matches than him.
In a year when Pakistan will begin their third ICC World Test Championship cycle and play 50-over Asia Cup and World Cup, Shaheen could not have asked for a better stage to make his return than HBL PSL that will test his fitness and skills to the hilt.
“HBL PSL is one of the best leagues in the world and the quality of cricket tests you as a bowler. I am very excited to be making my comeback here and look forward to all the challenges that it will throw at me.
Thanks to Almighty, I am doing well. I am ticking both the bowling workload and fitness requirement boxes.”
Lahore Qalandars will begin their title defence from 13 February when they take on Multan Sultans in the tournament opener in Multan.