DUBAI // The parallels are uncanny. A young bowler who should still be in school rather than playing international cricket confirms his arrival on the world stage with a blistering display of six-hitting. Pakistan's supporters at home and abroad immediately fall in love. Even Shahid Afridi has been briefly shunted from the limelight this week, thanks to the exploits of the precocious 17-year-old bowler, Mohammed Aamer, on Monday night.
Thirteen years on from his own personal epiphany, Afridi has been impressed. "I think we should learn from him," he said, on the eve of tonight's first Cool & Cool Twenty20 Cup match. "He played well. He has the talent to become a good all-rounder." After being called into the Pakistan side as a 16-year-old leg-spinner, Afridi pinch-hit what was then the fastest one-day international century in his maiden innings. He has been brutalising bowling attacks ever since.
As a successful product of Pakistan's youth policy, Afridi is happy to see the recent emergence of the likes of Aamer and his fellow teen, Umar Akmal. "I have already said in the team meetings that if the seniors don't perform the juniors will come in and take their chance," added Afridi. "Aamer got his chance in the World Twenty20 and he performed very well. Umar Akmal did the same thing and they both performed in the ICC Champions Trophy as well.
"It is a great sign because they are performing in the big events. It will have given them confidence and if the senior guys don't perform then we should definitely give chances to the youngsters. "They have proved how talented they are. They are doing a great job." New Zealand's captain, Daniel Vettori, suffered most during Aamer's onslaught at the Zayed Stadium. He was plundered for three sixes in four balls, but it the youngster's pace bowling which has caught the New Zealand captain's eye.
"He is obviously a quality bowler and for a young guy coming in, performing the way he has is great for Pakistan," said Vettori. "Any left-arm bowler who bowls at that pace and with that accuracy is always a difficult assignment for batsmen. "We have seen that at the start of his career and he is going to be a real exciting player for Pakistan for a number of years." Despite losing the 50-over series in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan, who are world champions in the format, will be confident of a whitewash against the same opposition in the Twenty20 matches.
As their coach, Intikhab Alam, puts it: "We are a different team in the Twenty20s, and they are naturally confident players." Afridi added: "We didn't play well in the one-day series, but it is gone, it's history. It is a new day now and we all are very focused. "We are the world champions and we want to play like champions. Since the end of the one-day series the guys have worked really hard and we are ready to take responsibility.
"I think in Twenty20 cricket any side are dangerous, even if you are playing Zimbabwe or Bangladesh. "You can't relax at any time in Twenty20 and this New Zealand side are doing very well. They will be confident after the one-day series, so it should be a great game." Afridi will get three chances to influence proceedings today. He will be captaining the side for the second time, and, as such, is likely to elevate himself in the batting- order, possibly as high as No 3.
He will then strike up his powerful alliance with fellow spinner Saeed Ajmal, a combination on which Pakistan have built much of their 20-over success. "When Australia were here it was a very good track for spinners," added Afridi, who starred when Pakistan beat Australia in the first Twenty20 match to be staged in Dubai, in April. "For the past two to three years I have been doing well with my bowling. Between myself and Saeed Ajmal we have a very good partnership.
"You have to make quick decisions in Twenty20 games, and we know what we need to do. Everyone is backing each other and you will see the difference." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org