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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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.”