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Can Pakistan’s aspirations for its fast bowlers be met with Naseem Shah?

Jan 12, 2023

PAKISTAN – Most people snooze their alarms when they first go off. Maybe it was a long night out, maybe it was too much work, or maybe you just needed a little more sleep. Turnover and press the snooze button. Youth requires a rest.

Naseem may be living out many people’s fantasies. His slim, historically exposed back and shoulders have taken the brunt of whatever fast-bowling slack that Pakistan has needed to pick up. Naseem assumed the role of attack coordinator when Shaheen Afridi was injured and unable to play in Test matches. He was thrown into both of those formats as well when Pakistan’s white-ball resources felt a little low.

The idea of an off-season in this era of nonstop cricket seems antiquated, yet you could probably date the beginning of this endless Pakistan season to July 2022, when they traveled to Sri Lanka for a two-match series. Since then, Naseem hasn’t slept a wink. He only missed games because of Covid-19, illness, and a shoulder injury, respectively. He had pneumonia at the time, and after being discharged from the hospital, he travelled to New Zealand to play three games as a warm-up for the T20 World Cup. He returned for the final match, bowling more overs than any other Pakistani fast bowler, having recovered from his shoulder injury during the home Test season.

Naturally, he was also selected for the ODI series, which began in Karachi with a five-wicket haul and the Match Player Award. Only Tim Southee and Mitchell Starc, two fast bowlers, have bowled more international cricket deliveries since July 2022 than Naseem, who has 1301. The bodies of 34 and 32-year-olds, however, are much more capable of handling that kind of burden than those of 19-year-olds, especially those that produce such a high rate of speed. The only other person under 26 in the top 10 of that list is Pakistan’s 21-year-old seamer Mohammad Wasim, who is obviously in the top 10. Additionally, Naseem does more than just manage his job.

Naseem is stunning right now, regardless of your concerns about the future. It’s simple to overlook how unpolished his return to international cricket was when he was selected for the Sri Lanka Tests. After a 14-month break, during which he spent a significant portion of the time on the treatment table recovering from a growing number of fast bowling-related injuries, he played two Test matches against Australia in March. It’s simple to forget that when he arrived in Rotterdam in August, he had never played in a T20I before, and that when he tormented KL Rahul and Virat Kohli in the Asia Cup’s first match, he had never bowled an international white-ball delivery.

Anyone who has enjoyed watching Naseem over the course of this time—and it has been—won’t have been shocked by the clinic he put on against New Zealand on Monday. It is important to note that Naseem had never played a Full Member team in an ODI, thus that faith was mostly founded on the unwavering conviction that he could succeed against anyone, anywhere, and in any format.

However, you didn’t need much more information to know that Naseem could take wickets early with the new ball or produce that unstoppable mix of reverse swing, slower deliveries, and pure speed to run riot at the end. Considering what he has accomplished this season.

On surfaces so favorable to spin in Sri Lanka, the hosts only managed to claim two wickets with their fast bowling; Naseem alone claimed seven. Only Haris Rauf and Bhuvneshwar Kumar took more wickets during the Asia Cup than him, and that wasn’t even his most memorable performance. He had the fourth-best economy rate for a fast bowler at the World Cup’s group stage, conceding just 102 runs in 18 overs (minimum five overs). As Pakistan’s quicks suffocated New Zealand in the semifinal, his statistics of 4 to 0 to 30 to 0 didn’t quite do him justice. That same performance in the championship game against the most talented white-ball team in a generation felt like a complete miscarriage of justice.

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