At first sight, it is not quite possible to figure out Shaheen Shah Afridi’s age. The youngster looks anywhere between fifteen and eighteen. But he smiles and says, “ Unnish saal ka hoon (I am 19)…”
Born on April 6, 2000 in the Khyber region of Pakistan, Shaheen can speak Pashto at ease, but these days, he is more comfortable with Urdu and Hindi.
Playing his third World Cup fixture for Pakistan, Shaheen proved economical as he scalped three wickets for 28 runs against New Zealand at Edgbaston. “ Aaj ka performance achha tha kahe sakte hai … (you can say, today’s performance was good),” he says, interacting with a handful of Indian and Pakistani scribes in the mixed media zone on Wednesday evening.
Coming into the tournament, the youngster could feel the pressure to perform, especially after the fans slammed the team following its defeat against India, some ten days ago.
But things have significantly changed following consecutive wins against South Africa and New Zealand. “When the crowd supports, it’s a great feeling. But you feel bad, when they criticise… Aajkal toh bahot hi zyada karte hai hamare log …” he says.
The youngster is just nine months old in international cricket, and obviously, he doesn’t have much idea about how ugly criticisms can be when the team fares poorly. “I want to tell the fans to support us. This is your team, this is your pride. This is your Pakistan, so support us…” he says with a wry smile.
Over the last few days, many senior cricketers of the team — including captain Sarfaraz Ahmed — have pleaded to the fans to stay away from unnecessary attacks. And Shaheen reveals that the senior players protected them ‘thoroughly’ after the defeat against India.
“I spoke to Wasim bhai over phone and even when he is around, I get to learn a lot from him. I discuss a lot of things. He was telling me, ‘With your swing, hit the raw line.’ I did just that.” — Shaheen Shah Afridi
“All the senior players guided us. It is sad if you start criticising after one or two games. This should not be done. This is your team and in sport, there will be winning and losing…” he says.
Being a left-arm quick, Shaheen admires Wasim Akram and admits that he did speak to the pace great ahead of the game against New Zealand. “I spoke to Wasim bhai over phone and even when he is around, I get to learn a lot from him. I discuss a lot of things…” he says, adding that he did have a word with Akram -- who was at Edgbaston as a commentator — before the game. “He was also telling me that with your swing, hit the raw line. I did just that…” the young gun says.
Coming from a family which has produced another cricketer — Riaz Afridi, who played a lone Test for Pakistan -- Shaheen had a fair idea about the road ahead, at a rather early age. “I only followed Wasim bhai and my brother. I speak to my brother regularly and he tells me to focus on my game…” Shaheen says.
Being a part of Pakistan’s U-19 team last year, Shaheen took a bit of time to settle in the senior team, but he is grateful to bowling coachAzhar Mahmood. “Working with Azzu bhai at the nets have helped me. I have learned a lot from him. I want to give all the credit to him.”
At a time when the entire cricketing fraternity is busy talking about the uncanny resemblance between Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup-winning side’s fortunes and the current lot, Shaheen isn’t burdened by the legacies of the past.
“In 1992, main toh nakshe mein bhi nahi aaya tha … (I was not even born),” he joked. “Our target will be to ensure that the team does well and wins the World Cup,” he says.
With Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz around, Pakistan has three left-arm fast bowlers in its ranks and Shaheen admits that it motivates him further. “They are great bowlers and even I want to contribute.”
Even though Pakistan has bounced back in the tournament, it still needs to win its two remaining games in a bid to keep its hopes for semifinal alive. But the dreamer that he is, Shaheen is confident the team will reach the last-four stage, “god willing”.
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