Pakistan pace prospect Naseem Shah backed to make his mark in first Test against Australia
Coach and chief executive give their support to 16-year-old who is currently mourning the death of his mother
Pakistan believe fast-bowling sensation Naseem Shah can be a match-winner in the opening Test against Australia, despite the 16-year-old currently mourning the death of his mother.
The exciting teenager is on the cusp of selection for the game at the Gabba in Brisbane starting on Thursday after impressing with a fiery eight-over spell against Australia A in Perth.
If he makes the grade, Naseem will join a handful of others to debut at 16, including Indian hero Sachin Tendulkar.
The youngest Test player listed by Cricinfo was Pakistan's Hasan Raza in 1996, aged just 14, although his date of birth was later disputed.
"The best thing about Naseem Shah is the control he has on his bowling," head coach Misbah-ul-Haq said.
"He has a very good bowling action and knows which deliveries to bowl. He can bowl with a very good control. He knows his stuff and bowled really well in the first-class matches he played this season.
"He's bowled well here too and is the standout bowler for us. The way he's been bowling, he can be a match-winner for us."
Pakistan have a history of blooding promising players early, accounting for six of the 10 youngest to play Test matches. But Naseem is also carrying a heavy burden of his mother passing away.
"He spoke to his family and they said 'this is where your mum would have wanted you to be'," Pakistan Cricket Board chief executive Wasim Khan told The Sydney Morning Herald on why Naseem opted to remain in Australia.
"Everyone has rallied around him, keeping a close eye on him, making sure he's OK," Wasim said. "He's got a few confidantes in the team that he can go to if he's feeling low or not feeling great. He wanted to stick it out."
Naseem has only played seven first-class games and while selectors clearly like what they see, how he copes in the heat of battle over five days against world-class batsmen such as Steve Smith and David Warner remains to be seen.
Seasoned campaigner Smith warned he won't be afraid to exploit Naseem's inexperience if the young gun gets the nod.
"He's half my age. It'll be interesting ... 16 is young," Smith said. "I dare say you'd be pretty nervous at 16 playing a Test match, particularly away from home. He's obviously got some skill if they're picking him and you don't take anyone lightly.
"For us we'll be trying to get as many overs into him as possible and trying to wear him down. He wouldn't be used to bowling lots and lots of overs, so that'll be the plan."
Pakistan's squad – hampered by the retirement this year of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz – also includes 19-year-old fast bowlers Musa Khan and Shaheen Afridi.
They also have Imran Khan senior, who is back in the Test squad for the first time since their Australian tour in 2017, along with the dangerous Mohammad Abbas and prolific leg-spinner Yasir Shah.
Pakistan have drawn a series in Australia, but have never won one, and last tasted a Test victory at Sydney in 1995.
"Our previous record in Australia won't put us under pressure," Misbah said. "If anything, it'll be an opportunity and motivation to win because whatever we couldn't achieve in the past, we can do now.
"It's a young and hungry team and it means business. This team wants to take the challenge. We want to give our best, play good cricket and think about winning."
Updated: November 19, 2019 10:55 AM