A tall, lanky, left-arm pacer made his international debut for Pakistan in April 2018 and in just a span of more than two years, Shaheen Shah Afridi has become one of the few mainstays in all formats for the Men in Green.
Only all-format captain Babar Azam and now wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Rizwan share this privilege of never losing their spots to anyone else in the Pakistan team. Everyone else is dispensable; everyone else can be replaced but not Babar, Rizwan and Shaheen.
However, the rigours of batting, fielding and captaincy for Babar, the hardships of keeping and batting for Rizwan are no way near the toll that bowling, fielding and at times batting down the order take on Shaheen’s body.
This is the most recent topic under discussion that when will Shaheen be able to take a rest and do Pakistan have a consistent and able bowler to replace him for a series at least?
For perspective, since Shaheen’s debuts in all formats in 2018 (T20Is in April, ODIs in September and Tests in December), he has played 15 Tests, 22 ODIs and 21 T20Is, more than half of the matches Pakistan have played during this time.
One also needs to remember that when he made his debut, Amir was the lead bowler and now with his self-imposed exile from cricket for Pakistan, Shaheen has risen quickly through the ranks to become the leader of the pack.
However, the problem that Shaheen is facing at the moment is that he doesn’t have a partner in crime in the bowling department and as everyone who understands cricket knows that fast-bowlers always hunt in pairs. This puts extra burden on the left-arm pacer of always striking with the new ball, giving Pakistan breakthroughs in the middle and then containing oppositions at the end.
No other bowler who came to the forefront in the past two to three years has shown enough promise to become Shaheen’s permanent partner in the pace department in all formats.
Many do believe that Pakistan has a lot of options to consider and it won’t be a big issue to tell Shaheen to sit out a series, but no one can deny the fact that Shaheen’s dependability is unmatched at the moment by any other younger or even veteran pacer.
This begs the question of if he is to be replaced, who will fill in for him during that time.
A few contenders that come to mind are Haris Rauf (picked for his electric performances in the Big Bash League, but unable to make his mark yet due to lack of consistency in wicket-taking), Naseem Shah (considered too inexperienced and erratic to be made a permanent part of the ODI and T20I squads), Muhammad Musa (given a few chances but never a consistent run) and the 32-year-old debutante Zahid Mahmood, who inspired in his first outing but cannot be trusted until he delivers consistently. Meanwhile, Wahab Riaz is always waiting if nothing else works.
With Habib Bank Limited Pakistan Super League nearly at our doorsteps, Shaheen will once again be seen flying in to try and rattle oppositions for Lahore Qalandars. Lahore captain Sohail Akhtar has said that they may give Shaheen a few breathers between matches, but with the trophy on the line, the left-armer is sure to play more matches than he sits out.
This will surely be a worrying sign for Pakistan management as Shaheen will start the HBL PSL after playing a full New Zealand tour and now a full South Africa tour. But, selectors can always search for new and upcoming talent in the sixth edition of the HBL PSL and maybe they find someone consistent enough for Pakistan who can fill the gap when Shaheen is resting.
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