Followers of the HBL Pakistan Super League are set to see the “next sensation in fast bowling” in action.
That is the view of Aaqib Javed, the new Lahore Qalandars coach, who believes Shaheen Afridi could be poised for greatness.
The 17-year-old left-armer first attracted public attention when he took eight wickets in the second innings of his first-class debut in September, the best figures by a Pakistani on debut.
Then, last month, he was Pakistan’s leading wicket-taker at the Under 19 World Cup in New Zealand.
“His height has been gifted, he is bowling 135-140kph already, and he is smart,” Aaqib said of the 6ft 6in Qalandars rookie. “When you discuss things with him, he understands what he is doing.
“He is the next sensation in fast bowling. Even during the Under 19 World Cup,
Rahul Dravid [the coach of the winning India team] came up to him and said, ‘Guys, look after this guy – he is the next superstar’. I am really excited to have him.”
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1. Jofra Archer (Quetta Gladiators): The Barbados-born fast bowler has already risen to international prominence, even though he is still years away from qualifying to play for England. Picked up by Quetta as a replacement for Carlos Brathwaite when he was named in the West Indies World Cup Qualifier squad, after catching the eye at the Australian Big Bash. Paul Kane / Getty Images
2. Shadab Khan (Islamabad United): The leg-spinner, who bats well down the order and is arguably the best fielder in Pakistan, already feels like an established figure. And yet he is still only 19. It is a year since Dean Jones, his franchise coach, deemed him ready for international cricket on the back of his debut PSL. He has played for Pakistan, and in a variety of T20 leagues since. Marty Melville / AFP
3. Eoin Morgan (Karachi Kings): It was recently speculated that Morgan was becoming a modern-day Mike Brearley for England. Meaning that he merits inclusion in the side on captaincy alone, and anything extra from his batting is a bonus. Faint praise on two counts. Morgan will be happy if his leadership is still being spoken about in 37 years’ time. Plus, his batting remains vicious. Stu Forster / Getty Images
4. Andre Russell (Islamabad United): The Jamaican all-rounder has slipped straight back into the old routine, having returned to playing a month ago after a year out suspended for dope-test whereabouts negligence. He has scored two half-centuries and a ton for Jamaica in 50-overs cricket over the past six weeks, and has also been among the wickets. Was a key figure when Islamabad won PSL 1. Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP
5. Wahab Riaz (Peshawar Zalmi): The leading wicket-taker in the PSL’s short history to date with 30 across the two seasons, and a key figure in Peshawar’s title win last year. So motivated was he by the prospect of helping his team to the title in 2017, as well as taking them back to Pakistan for the final, he was in tears on the field after the qualifying final at Dubai International Stadium. Francois Nel / Getty Images
6. Chris Lynn (Lahore Qalandars): It is four years now since Lynn first came to prominence in UAE, when he took a remarkable boundary catch to win an Indian Premier League match for Kolkata Knight Riders in Sharjah. One of the game’s strongest power-hitters, he will be playing PSL for the first time, alongside his Brisbane Heat opening colleague Brendon McCullum. Michael Bradley / AFP
7. Fakhar Zaman (Lahore Qalandars): This time last year, Fakhar was a little-known former Navy serviceman finding room in the batting-order of the worst-performing PSL franchise. He earned a place opening the batting for Pakistan on the basis of some eye-catching innings for the Qalandars – then four matches later scored a century to beat India in the Champions Trophy final. Karim Sahib / AFP
8. Alex Hales (Islamabad United): A new addition to the PSL, Hales is the only England batsman to have scored a T20 international hundred. He also has the second-highest one-day international score by an England player, and the highest score in a domestic cup final in the UK. He has already caught the imagination in UAE this winter, having starred in the T10 League in Sharjah in December. Stu Forster / Getty Images
9. Kieron Pollard (Multan Sultans): The broad-shouldered Trinidadian has not stormed the PSL in the same way that he has some other leagues around the world, but some of his cameos have been sparkling. Last year, he muscled Karachi Kings through the final throes of the group by setting up a win off the last ball against Lahore Qalandars with 45 not out from 20 balls. Manjunath Kiran / AFP
Afridi is not 18 until April, meaning he comfortably qualifies as a PSL “emerging player”. A stipulation of the league says the starting XI of each team must have at least one Pakistani player under the age of 23.
Even if it was not mandated, Aaqib would be unlikely to have any qualms about trusting in youth.
The coach was only 16 himself when he was plucked from obscurity to play Test cricket for Pakistan in New Zealand in 1989.
And when he served a four-year stint in charge of the UAE, he called Yodhin Punja into the wider training squad ahead of the last World Cup aged just 15.
Aaqib returned to Pakistan from Dubai in 2016, after a broadly successful spell as coach of the UAE.
He took up the role of director of cricket operations at Lahore’s PSL franchise. This year he has taken on the head coach’s role, after the departure of Paddy Upton.
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He says he was reticent about taking on the job, but is optimistic he can raise the standards of a side who finished last in each of the first two seasons of PSL.
“The league competitions are always exciting,” Aaqib said. “It is not like in national team cricket where there are four top ranked and five lower ranked, for example, and there is almost no match a lot of the time.
“In franchise cricket, everything is equal, everything is balanced.
“There are a lot of options. There are 21 players in each team, so you can imagine the competition within the team. It is about responding at the right time, that is the key.
“From the middle of the tournament, it has to be an upward curve of performances.”