Domain Test Series v Pakistan
The rapid rise of Pakistan's young pace ace
History will be made at the Gabba when a 16-year-old quick takes to the field in the first Domain Test
Mazher Arshad in Brisbane
21 November 2019, 07:34 AM AEST
It was only five years ago when Naseem Shah left Lower Dir, his hometown and place of birth, for Lahore to chase up the dream of becoming a cricketer.
His father was initially against the idea of playing cricket and wanted him to concentrate on his studies, but his brother and uncle convinced his father to let Naseem play as they had seen a potential in him.
Naseem lives with his brothers in Lahore and since moving to the city has visited his hometown only a handful of times. He had tried to convince his parents to move to Lahore and live with him but it wasn't until he received his maiden call-up to the national team that his mother finally agreed.
After the first day’s play of the tour match in Perth, Naseem talked on phone with his mother, who was set to shift to Lahore the following day. But during the journey from Dir to Lahore, she tragically passed away. The news of her sudden death came as a shock for the young Naseem, who was part of the playing XI in Perth.
Naseem would have not made it home for the funeral in time so his bothers suggested he stay in Australia and fulfill their mother’s dream – seeing her son play cricket for Pakistan. That dream will become a reality today in Brisbane where Naseem becomes the youngest player to play Tests on Australian soul.
Pakistan’s cricket history is enriched with fast bowlers and Naseem could be its newest hero. Even before playing an international game, he has already been the center of the attention due to his intimidating eight-over spell against Australia A in Perth.
Most of the queries from Australian media to Pakistan captain Azhar Ali in his pre-match press conference were about Naseem and his journey to the highest level of cricket.
"I had seen his videos but first time I saw him in real was when he bowled in the nets for Central Punjab. That is when he caught our eyes," said Azhar, who also captained him at Central Punjab, one of the teams in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
"What impressed us most was his understanding of bowling. Sometimes bowlers show lot of talent at a young age but they can’t execute plans.
"But in four or five first-class matches I played with him, he seemed to get better and better.
"He knows his strengths and weaknesses and knows how to read the batsman.
"Not many players can reach that standard so early but there are some exceptions and he is one of them."
The person who first spotted his talent was Salman Qadir, son of the former Pakistan leg-spinner Abdul Qadir, who runs a cricket academy just a stone’s throw from the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
Naseem came to the academy wearing Shalwar Kameez, an improper dress for cricket, and without cricket footwear. Salman didn’t take him seriously due to his appearance but after seeing his pace in the nets he asked senior Pakistan cricketers to keep an eye on him.
Naseem made his first-class debut last year and in his only second match took a six-wicket haul for ZTBL against PTV. He was also drafted by Quetta Gladiators to play in the PSL 2019 but a back injury ruled him out and he was replaced by Mohammad Hasnain, another young fast bowler.
After spending six months off the field due to the injury, Naseem made a return to cricket with 12 wickets for Pakistan Under-19s in their ODI series against South Africa this year. But what earned him a berth in Pakistan’s Test squad was his performance for Central Punjab in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy this season, in which he has taken 18 wickets in four matches at an average of 19.27.
That footage of his spell against Australia A in Perth has seen the rookie compared with Shane Bond, Waqar Younis, Dennis Lillee and Richard Hadlee, an impressive list of fast-bowling legends.
"He has got a very good action. He has got good pace. He reminds me of Dennis Lillee actually. He has got a very similar action," Waqar, who is also Pakistan’s bowling coach, said last week.
What makes Naseem pleasing to the eye is his smooth bowling action and a breeze-like bowling run-up. And why not? Naseem is an Arabic word which literally means cool breeze.
While growing up Naseem was impressed by Bond’s action and also tried to learn bowling by watching footage of the great Pakistan fast bowlers.
"I watch the videos of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar and get to learn a lot. I have been compared with many bowlers but I try to play my natural game and keep my natural game," said Naseem on the eve of his Test debut.
"Ever since I started playing Under-19s, I wanted prepare my skill and fitness for the bigger levels. I am glad that I have got the chance to represent Pakistan and I am hopeful I will do well.
"To play against Australia and in Australia is a great feeling for me. I will try to deliver my best."
Domain Test Series v Pakistan
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner
Pakistan squad: Azhar Ali (c), Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan Snr, Iftikhar Ahmed, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Musa Khan, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah.
First Test: November 21-25, Gabba (Seven, Fox & Kayo)