Naseem Shah, the Pakistan pacer, has easily been the most talked-about player in the Pakistan camp in the lead-up to their three-Test series in England.
That’s largely down to what he has already achieved in his 10 months as an international cricketer, a lot of which has so far been spent in lockdowns and quarantines. The fact that despite his tender age – he is all of 17 – his team management have not been apprehensive about talking him up suggests he is of strong mettle.
“If you see his experience and his cricket then the sample size is too small but he’s already fulfilling his potential,” coach Misbah-ul-Haq said on Saturday. “He is one who could win a Test match on his own so we’re looking forward for him to emerge as a very good bowler in this series.”
So, what exactly is it about Naseem that England have to watch out for? We have a look.
Naseem Shah is pumped up
“If they treat me like a small kid, it will be their big loss. Age doesn’t matter, it’s my bowling that matters – they need to take me seriously.”
In June, ahead of Pakistan’s departure to England, Naseem served England a warning. It was his first international trip to England, he is just 17, but there were no signs of jitters or nerves. There wasn’t a thought about giving undue respect to the England batsmen.
There was also an insight into his mindset when he said: “Speed matters. I will continue to make efforts to attain maximum speed.”
He is pumped up.
A tricky customer first up
In his four Tests so far, during the course of which he has taken 13 wickets, Naseem has mostly been difficult for batsmen to put away. Of those 13 wickets, five have come with batsmen on nought. A further two wickets have come with batsmen accumulating less than 10 runs.
That highlights his evident skill and intensity early on, but it is also a pointer to the element of surprise that’s going for him, given most batsmen in the international circuit are yet to face him. Needless to say, it’s something he’ll look to maximise in Manchester, and then in Southampton.
He can make the ball move
It isn’t just raw pace that makes Naseem stand out. It’s the fact that he can make the ball move both ways. That’s a strength that will get accentuated in English conditions, where the challenge usually lies in controlling the swing.
In Waqar Younis, his bowling coach, Naseem has arguably the best man to guide him in the art of swing. If he can control it, and combine it with his evident pace, he will prove more than a handful to the best of the English batsmen.
The stats back that up: Eight of Naseem’s 13 wickets have come via hits to fielders. Nine of his wickets have come against right-handers – watch out for the outswinger!
5-55 from Naseem Shah in Pakistan’s first intra-squad friendly of their tour of England.
What a talent. pic.twitter.com/HhoNYz6Ouz
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) July 19, 2020
Naseem Shah takes wickets in a bunch
In his short career, Naseem has already shown a knack for milestones. He already has a Test hat-trick – he achieved that feat at Rawalpindi against Bangladesh in just his fourth Test – and has a five-wicket-haul and a four-wicket haul in his last two Tests.
A majority of his wickets have also come in the second innings – a 5-31 against Sri Lanka in Karachi and the 4-26 against Bangladesh at Rawalpindi – suggesting Pakistan have a match-winner in their hands.
He has taken a shine to England
Naseem seems to be enjoying England conditions. In the two warm-up intra-squad matches at Derby, Naseem took 10 wickets, including a 5-55 and a 4-52. While that meant the Pakistani batsmen are struggling, things seem merry in the bowling department – Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem’s new-ball partner, was among the wickets as well.
Certainly worrying signs for England.