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Shaheen Shah Afridi - Pakistan's Wonder Kid From Landi Kotal

Shaheen Shah Afridi has made a happy habit of striking in the very first over of the game.

Updated
Cricket
5 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Shaheen Shah Afridi was instrumental as Pakistan defeated India in the 2021 T20 World Cup.&nbsp;</p></div>
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IN a remote village of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city life of Lahore and Karachi, a kid was born on 6 April, 2000 – only for the streets of ‘big cities’ to scream his name one day.

When Pakistan faced off India for the 13th time at any World Cup game on 24 October, they were not only up against a side that was better than them, they were up against a legacy that had made them a laughing stock amongst the rival fans.

And little did the kid or his family for that matter know at the time that he would go on to play a crucial role in scripting Pakistan’s first-ever win over India in a World Cup game.

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Initial Days

By the time the kid took his first steps as a baby, Pakistan had lost three World Cup contests against arch-rivals, India. They would go on to lose nine more before finally winning one on a riveting night in Dubai.

Landi Kotal is a town in the Khyber region that shares its border with Afghanistan. The kid, known as Shaheen Shah Afridi, has witnessed the horrors of the War on Terror that took place right next to his door. But, even the constant threat of the war knocking at the door couldn’t stop him from bowling fast and furious. Such was his love for cricket and fast bowling specifically.

The Meteoric Rise

Shaheen was introduced to hard-ball cricket by his elder brother Riaz Afridi who has represented Pakistan in a solitary Test match back in 2004. Riaz knew that his brother had the talent to make it big, but for that he needed someone to train him. Which is why he gave up playing cricket so that Shaheen could play.

Shaheen had played with a tennis ball until 2015 when Riaz asked him to bowl with the red cherry for the FATA U-16 trials. He took little time to impress the onlookers and got a call up by the national selectors for the U19 Asia Cup in December 2016. Following his success at the U19 Asia Cup, the Dhaka Dynamites signed Shaheen on a two-year contract.

As time passed by, his performances got better and better. He made his First Class debut in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy in 2017/18 and made a case for himself straightaway. He got selected for the U-19 World Cup 2018 and remained the pick of the bowlers with 12 wickets. He impressed everyone at the U-19 World Cup 2018 including the former Indian batting legend Rahul Dravid who walked to Pakistan’s then U-19 team manager Nadeem Khan and said that Shaheen was one for the future and had the potential to be real asset for Pakistan.

Shaheen, who was already on the radar of the selectors, did not take long and made his debut for Pakistan against the West Indies in T20Is in April 2018, and played his first ODI and Test in September and December against Afghanistan and New Zealand respectively.

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Shaheen's Moment in the Sun

When the two captains – Babar Azam and Virat Kohli walked out to the middle for the toss, India had an unbeaten streak against Pakistan in World Cup games. The two sides had met 12 times prior to the game with India winning all of them in great style. It was clear that if Pakistan were to win the game, one of their lead pacers, perhaps Shaheen, would have to give them an edge over India.

And even though, Shaheen has been amazing over the last few years, he was yet to deliver the knockout punch on India. Because who would remember you if you got thrashed in a crucial game against your arch rivals despite doing well all around the world?

At one end of the action was Rohit Sharma, who had made his international cricket debut when Pakistan’s lead pacer was just six years old, at the other, was the wonder kid from Landi Kotal who had dreamt big and was brave enough to live it.

That Shaheen did what Shaheen does should not surprise anyone. He fed three out-swingers to KL Rahul before he gave the strike to Rohit. The latter’s troubles against the in-swingers are not hidden from anyone. He has a knack for falling cheaply to in-swingers bowled by left-handers. Shaheen knew his weakness. Even Rohit knew that Shaheen was well aware of his weakness yet could not do much against the raging inswinging yorker.

This is what the dreams are made of, right? Right? Shaheen sent the Hitman packing back to the pavilion and followed it up with a pricey wicket of Rahul in the second over of the spell, who is most likely going to be haunted by the memory of his middle-and-off stumps being rattled by sheer pace and swing.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Shaheen Afridi takes a selfie after Pakistan defeated India.&nbsp;</p></div>

Shaheen Afridi takes a selfie after Pakistan defeated India. 

Image: ICC

To say that it was a thing of beauty is an understatement at the very least. It was art. Only a bowler of high skill and talent could produce the magical deliveries that Shaheen bowled to the Indian openers. The spell worked its charm on former England captain Nasser Hussain as well who went on to say that the Indians could not play him.

The Indian batters knew the threat he posed to their team yet could not do anything about it. Because, frankly, you could do nothing. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you end up on the losing side. Not because you did much wrong, but because you were up against a quality opponent. In Shaheen, India were up against a kid who has been brought up next to a war-torn zone, who has been ridiculed at home, and declared overrated and fraud by his own team’s fans.

That he did what he did yesterday is a testament to his potential and to the fact that Pakistan is indeed a land of fast bowlers. He did not only rise to the occasion when it mattered the most but also ensured that the World Cup hoodoo was no longer a thing. His detractors might still say that he is yet to prove his credentials, but those who have followed his development as a cricketer over the last few years know that he is destined to become the face of Pakistan cricket for the next 10-15 years.

Not only is Shaheen a terrific bowler but also has a wholesome story to tell the kids from all over the world who dare to dream big. No matter what naysayers say, Shaheen is a superstar who will have inspired many a kids by the time he decides to hang up his boots.

(The writer is a sports journalist based in Pakistan. He tweets @HumayounAK)

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