Pakistan fast bowler Shaheen Afridi says he aspires to grow across all formats rather than focusing on just white-ball cricket. He recently grabbed impressive figures of 6 for 19 for Hampshire in the Vitality Blast but insisted that there was a lot ahead in his career to make a name for.
Afridi rose through the ranks at a time when Mohammad Amir was beginning to fade away – and eventually retired – from Test cricket. Pakistan were keen on picking fresh fast bowlers after the experienced duo of Amir and Wahab Riaz decided to focus only on white-ball cricket, as Riaz took an indefinite break from the format only to recently express a willingness to return. As a result, Pakistan ended up giving Test debuts to five fast bowlers since 2018, one of whom was Afridi, who started as an 18-year-old against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi in 2018.
His short yet successful journey so far as pace spearhead has made him an automatic choice for Pakistan in every format. Over the last one year, seven out of Afridi’s 11 Tests have come on tours to South Africa, Australia and England, and he is set to lead Pakistan’s attack on the upcoming tour of New Zealand in December too. Pakistan’s fast-bowling coach Waqar Younis has been overseeing the growth of Afridi and the teenaged Naseem Shah as Test fast bowlers, while also guarding against letting them drift away from red-ball cricket.
“I am focusing on all formats.” Afridi told reporters in Lahore, when asked if he finds white-ball cricket more tempting. “I am working hard, learning with every game, evolving as a fast bowler, and eventually I want to play for my country [regularly]. It’s a pride. I want to grab every opportunity to wear the Pakistan colours regardless of any format. I try my best to produce performances to help Pakistan as a team player and that’s the ambition.
“The idea is to stay vigilant with my fitness and the fitter I am, more I am going to play for Pakistan in all formats. I am keeping short goals, but maintaining fitness is something that is very important because that is what my whole cricket is going to rely on. Test cricket is tough – especially in the opponent’s conditions – but I am trying to have full control over my game. So red-ball cricket is very much in the mind and it’s not going anywhere.”
Afridi was in England for three straight months: first with Pakistan for the Test and T20I series against England, and then for a T20 stint with Hampshire in the Vitality Blast. He did not have a fruitful beginning for Hampshire, picking up only one wicket in his first six games, but in his final match – against Middlesex, when he took the six-for – Afridi claimed four wickets in four balls to become only the seventh men’s cricketer to achieve the feat in T20 cricket, eventually helping Hampshire end their winless streak. His figures were Hampshire’s best in T20 and his hat-trick the county’s second in the format.
“I felt immense pride for the figures,” Afridi said about this performance. “Such performances make you believe that you can do it. It’s really exciting and I am enjoying it. I am thankful for the performance and happy that I became a reason to make my country proud. This might be one of the most celebrated figures in T20s and I came to know that this is the first time someone has taken six bowled [dismissals], but this isn’t it – I have long way to go. I am still on my way to discover myself and want to achieve more than this in my future.”
Afridi was one of the prospects who came out of the PSL in 2018. He shot to prominence with figures of 8 for 39 in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the best figures by a Pakistani bowler on first-class debut. And while at the Lahore Qalandars in the PSL, he drew the attention of the then head coach Mickey Arthur, who compared him to a young Mitchell Starc days after the 17-year old took five wickets for just four runs, the best figures in the PSL in 2018.
Afridi hasn’t played a lot of domestic cricket in comparison to the PSL and international cricket, but was willing to return to domestic cricket in order to gain more experience. “I have played much of my international cricket outside Pakistan where conditions and wickets are different. But we have a full domestic season coming up and since I haven’t played much domestic [cricket] at home, it’s time [to play]. The weather is hot and pitches also stay low but then you have to give your heart out to take success out of these pitches. I am looking forward to the season and taking forward my performances.”