Just as teams walk out at Old Trafford with a little more swagger than from a decade ago, opposition batsmen feel just that little bit more confident stepping out of their crease when a Pakistani fast bowler charges in from his extravagant run-up these days. Up and down form and a general lack of effectiveness has seen the fear factor ebb away, and while Manchester United can’t not stay at Old Trafford, Pakistan can afford do away with one crop of fast bowlers and usher in another. For the series against Australia this month, that is precisely what new chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq has done.
That doesn’t necessarily mean youth, even though there is a noticeable pivot in that direction, with four fast bowlers selected across the T20I and Test formats still teenagers. But there are recalls for – at international level – relatively inexperienced pacemen: 37-year-old Mohammad Irfan has made the T20I squad, while 32-year-old Imran Khan (not the prime minister) is a part of the Test side. While most opponents know Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz, both a part of the T20Is, and Test man Mohammad Abbas well, here’s a look at the other half-a-dozen fast bowlers we’re going to see this month.
The future of Pakistan fast bowling. The unfortunate man, or boy, set to have unrealistic expectations dumped on slender, 16-year-old shoulders. Selected, arguably too prematurely, in the Test side, the buzz around Naseem Shah almost mirrors the excitement a teenaged Mohammad Amir generated when he burst on to the international scene. Returns of 6 for 59 on debut in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy as a 15-year-old had raised the initial expectations, but it’s a feat he repeated this week to bookend his budding career thus far.
It will, however, be vital to manage his workload. Pakistan have been profligate with young quicks in the past, and fears about injuries are inevitably evocative of Mohammad Zahid and how he fell by the wayside after an explosive start.
Musa Khan, just 19, is an advertiser’s dream. With green eyes and an eye-catching hairstyle, that somehow adds to the aura of express Pakistan fast bowlers, Musa emerged at the PSL this year, routinely clearing 140kph. While accuracy and discipline were concerns then, a return to form of late, particularly in the National T20 Cup, has seen him called up for both the Test and the T20I squads. With roots in Chitral, never considered fertile ground for cricketing talent, he could well serve as an inspiration to budding cricketers in the northern hinterlands of the country, so often overlooked to its detriment. His height means he has managed to extract bounce even on moribund pitches across Pakistan and, as such, Pakistan feel pitches around Australia are especially suited to his skills.
You’d have to be a fairly keen follower of Pakistan cricket to know much about Mohammad Hasnain. The 19-year-old was picked for international selection right after the PSL, where he bowled the fastest delivery of the tournament at over 150kph. That, as it turned out, wasn’t the best thing for him, with the ODIs he played subsequently coming against England and Australia; Pakistan lost all of them. He would be taken along to the World Cup and benched for the entire tournament, likely doing little for his confidence. Each of the three T20Is he has played have also ended in defeats, and he’s yet to truly impress at international level.
That he will seems something of a given in Pakistan, though. His pace, height and attitude suggest this is a precocious talent, with the maturity and smarts Pakistan bowlers are known for surely around the corner. Australia, again, will be a difficult tour, but it could also be a breakout one.
You probably recognise this name reasonably well. With the state of flux Pakistan cricket is in, Shaheen Shah Afridi is almost like a senior player in the side by now, though he isn’t 20 yet. A bout of dengue fever kept him out of the home series against Sri Lanka, but fully recovered now, Shaheen was an fairly automatic selection for the Australia series; the only surprise was he wasn’t picked for the T20Is as well. The three Tests he has played have come in New Zealand and South Africa, with 12 wickets at 31.65 possibly a sign of good things to come.
When he limped off in an ODI against England five overs into his spell in 2016, it seemed like that would be that in international cricket for Mohammad Irfan. It probably would have been if Mickey Arthur had still been in charge, but Misbah sees things differently. The appeal of selecting Irfan isn’t particularly sophisticated, but there is a certain irrefutability behind the logic. He is tall, very tall, and Australian pitches are bouncy. Yes, he might not be the fittest, but he need bowl only four overs. How he goes should be fascinating to watch. Equally intriguing will be to see where Pakistan hide the 37-year-old in the field.
Another player Arthur didn’t rate much, but for a man who’s only played nine Test matches, Imran Khan always finds himself in contention with Australia on the horizon for Pakistan. This is set to be the third Test series he features in against the opponents, having been a part of both the 2-0 series win in the UAE in 2014 and the 3-0 reversal in Australia in 2016-17.
A front-on action with a steady gather at the crease, Imran might be reliable, but nothing about his recent performances screams “match-winner”. More of a workhorse who can hold up one end, Imran may simply be attractive to Pakistan for his hefty domestic experience. Remember, other than him and Abbas, Pakistan’s Test squad possesses two 19-year-olds and a 16-year-old. Imran, like his (significantly) more gifted and glamorous namesake, could even find himself catapulted to the role of leader in the fast-bowling attack.
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