Cricket’s Next Generation: Naseem Shah leading the march for Pakistan’s youth revolution

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Cricket’s rich history is dotted with legends who have left a lasting legacy on the sport. Through their performances with the bat, ball or both in several cases, these players have risen head and shoulders above their contemporaries to achieve greatness.
For some like Sir Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar, the talent was undeniable from the moment they stepped on to the cricket field as a rookie. Meanwhile, others such as James Anderson, Virat Kohli and Younis Khan have honed their skills over the years to ultimately transform into extraordinary players.
Many youngsters, meanwhile, have promised plenty in their fledgling stages before fading into obscurity or mediocrity. As such, it is never easy to predict the career trajectory of young players entering the game, no matter how talented they might be.
While there is no telling where their careers will ultimately lead, there is nothing more exciting than watching fresh talents announcing their arrival in cricket.
In this series, we take a look at some of the most exciting cricketers around the world who are aged 23 or below. One country which has a knack of producing quality starlets on a regular basis is Pakistan. Over the years, Pakistan has developed a conveyor belt for producing young and quality fast bowlers in particular.
SHAHEEN AFRIDI Age: 19
Role: Left-armed Seamer
Similar to: Wasim Akram
Strengths: Swing, seam and control
At just 19 years of age, Shaheen Afridi is already established as the leader of the Pakistan bowling attack in all three formats. With 39 senior international appearances already under his belt including eight Test caps, the young left-armed seamer is scripting a meteoric rise.
Afridi made waves in the 2018 U19 World Cup in New Zealand, but his prodigious talent had been witnessed long before the competition. On his first-class debut in 2017, he claimed 8-39 in the second innings against Rawalpindi. Those are still the best ever figures by a debutant in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and the youngster has not looked back since.
He then led Pakistan’s charge to the U19 World Cup semi-final with a tournament haul of 12 wickets which came at a stunning average of only 14.58. Those displays saw Afridi earn a Pakistan Super League (PSL) contract with Lahore Qalandars and he, once again, grabbed the opportunity with his searing left hand.
A Pakistan T20I debut against the West Indies followed soon after, and he has since gone on to become a mainstay in all three formats for his country. With 86 international wickets and a World Cup campaign in England already, the teenager is already translating his promise into performances.
With an ability to swing the ball both ways at a decent clip, he has troubled some of the best batsmen in the world. The sky is the limit for Afridi and it will not be a surprise to see him establish himself as the No1 bowler in the world in the coming years.
NASEEM SHAH Age: 17
Role: Right-armed fast bowler
Strengths: Pace, bounce and aggression
Similar to: Waqar Younis
Just when Pakistan thought they had struck the jackpot with Afridi’s emergence, an even younger Naseem Shah has come along to take international cricket by storm.
Some stirring first-class displays by the teen pacer saw him become a surprise pick for Australia tour last year, with head coach Misbah-ul-Haq placing supreme belief in his abilities. While Pakistan were handed by a thrashing by the dominant hosts Down Under, Shah’s talents did not go unnoticed by the cricketing public.
Hurrying batsmen with his pace, he showed no signs of being a nervous teenager despite being afflicted by personal tragedy on the tour. It was just a prelude for greater things to come for Shah who came into his own in the home clashes against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
After a match-winning five-wicket haul against the Lankans in Karachi, Shah etched his name into the record books by becoming the youngest player to claim a Test hat-trick. The historic feat came against Bangladesh in Rawalpindi, with the right-armed pacer enthralling the home fans in some style.
At 17, he is still raw and far from the finished product, though all the makings of a great fast bowler are already there. Many pace talents in Pakistan have faded away previously after showing early promise, and how the team management handles Shah in the coming years will determine how far he can really go.
HAIDER ALI Age: 19
Role: Right-handed batsman
Similar to: Jonny Bairstow
Strengths: Timing, power and ability to clear the ropes
While Pakistan seem to have no trouble at all when it comes to producing fast bowlers, they have not been as lucky with batsmen . Since the emergence of batting prodigy Babar Azam, no other youngster has really announced himself on the stage in the domestic circuit.
As such, Haider Ali’s recent rise could not have come at a better time for Pakistan. The top-order batsman from Attock made his first-class debut only in September last year and has already gone on to register two centuries and three fifties in just seven appearances.
He was one of the star performers in the U19 World Cup in New Zealand, where his batting style earned him comparisons to Babar Azam. A textbook technique and plenty of power make Haider Ali’s hitting look as clean as anyone in the game.
Those attributes of his were further highlighted in the recently conclude PSL where he once again grabbed eyeballs with his fireworks. A tournament tally of 239 runs for Peshawar Zalmi came at an astonishing strike-rate of nearly 160. He hit a total of 14 sixes in the tournament and showed a range of elegant strokes on both sides of the wicket.
A Pakistan senior team call-up now looks inevitable for the right-hander who will be eyeing his chance to make the squad for the 2020 T20I World Cup in Australia. Sport360

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