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Naseem Shah savours bowling partnership with Shaheen Afridi
Exclusive Interview

Naseem Shah savours bowling partnership with Shaheen Afridi

Hunting in pairs remains a popular adage in cricket as bowlers, like their rival batsmen, tend to perform well in tandem. Fewer sights in the sport are as captivating as the destruction sculpted by lethal bowlers in sync leading their side's dominance.

Fast bowling partnerships, in particular, offer a more potent outlook with lightning pace deliveries darted in and ruffling the feathers of even the most settled batsman at the crease. Modern-day Test cricket sees the likes of New Zealand pair Trent Boult and Tim Southee and England's veteran duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad conjuring magic with the red cherry.

Shifting one's attention to Pakistan easily invokes the cherished memories of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis ruling the cricket world for over a decade. The two took 550 Test wickets across 61 matches when bowling together, dwarfing some of the greats of the game.

Taking a leaf from Pakistan's legendary pair, teenage speedster Naseem Shah intends to produce the same level of excellence alongside Shaheen Afridi. Four Tests young in international cricket and Naseem has already picked Shaheen as his favourite bowling partner owing to the camaraderie between the two and how well they complement one another.

Related: Shoaib Akhtar picks Naseem Shah as his bowling partner in PCB's Dream Pairs series

"I enjoy bowling with everyone on the other end but I feel whenever Shaheen and I bowl together, we try and execute a coherent plan whether we are bowling in the nets, a practice match or any other match," Naseem told Cricingif in an exclusive chat.

"When we are bowling in the nets, we discuss our plans and replicate the same strategy in the match. We communicate easily with each other and share tips.

"If he gets hit for a few runs, he tells me to deliver a maiden over and similarly when I am a touch expensive, I ask him to keep things tight. Hence, we have a good combination and I hope it stays this way in the future and our performances help Pakistan.”

Glimpses of Naseem and Shaheen bowling together across the Sri Lanka Tests and the Rawalpindi encounter against Bangladesh reinforces the rookie pacer's opinion. Naseem's skiddy bowling style works well with Shaheen's ability to generate prodigious swing while the left-arm/right-arm bowling angle poses a natural threat to the batsman.

Naseem, who first shot to prominence with a riveting spell in a practice match during the Australia tour last year, seems a determined individual for his young age as he has set lofty goals for himself. Realising the importance of making a mark in Test cricket, Naseem has targetted the No. 1 spot for himself in the red-ball format.

"I always pray that I can play as long as I work hard and my career remains free from controversies.

"My primary goal is that I am able to become the No. 1 bowler in Test cricket and if I get a chance in one-day and T20 cricket, I will try to break into the top three. I hope when I leave cricket, people remember me fondly," he said.

'If you are ready for Tests, then other formats are easy for you'

Naseem continues to be an exciting prospect for Pakistan cricket, which has run into problems of shorter shelf life for pacers in light of workload mismanagement. He battled an injury that kept him out of a few games in the Pakistan Super League but impressed in his handful of appearances for the Sarfaraz Ahmed-led Quetta Gladiators.

With age on his side, the 17-year-old looked forward to maintaining his longevity and keeping himself fit for international assignments.

"If you are able to gain the kind of fitness required for Test bowling, then other formats are easy for you to handle. I had played a Test [in February] and then played in the PSL, where delivering four overs was a simple task for me," he said.

"In Tests, you often have an issue of your speeds dropping but in the PSL, I could easily cross the 145-147 km/h mark. There was no tension regarding exhaustion. Thus, it is imperative that if your fitness level meets Test standards, then you are ready for all formats."

Naseem, whose inspiration for taking up fast bowling came from his infatuation with Shane Bond, created history when he became the youngest player to take a hat-trick against Bangladesh earlier this year.

He dismissed Najmul Hossain, Taijul Islam and Mahmudullah in succession to trigger Bangladesh's massive slide to a humiliating defeat.

Looking back at the high point of his short career, Naseem revealed his captain Azhar Ali backed him throughout the stunning moment.

"Azhar Ali backs my abilities and supports me a lot in crucial situations during the match. I planned all three deliveries with him which resulted in the hat-trick. He advised me to bring in the ball for the second scalp and I was rewarded instantly by acting upon his suggestion," he stated.

"I was riding high from a five-wicket haul against Sri Lanka, which gave me the confidence to perform against Bangladesh.

"I had not gotten a wicket in the first innings but Shaheen encouraged me and lifted my spirits by telling me to try hard in the next innings and I eventually registered the hat-trick."