Rising talent Naseem has hallmarks of being Pakistan’s new pace king
Teenager who can deliver both inswing and outswing is already being compared to the country’s bowling superstars
Naseem Shah was a threemonth-old babe in arms when James Anderson made his Test debut in 2003. This morning, the master and the apprentice will both be at Emirates Old Trafford, with the first Test against England the latest step on the road for Naseem, the Pakistan teenage sensation tipped to emulate Anderson and become his country’s highest Test wicket-taker.
Nobody made such bold predictions about Anderson when he played his first Test at Lord’s 17 years ago. Then, Sir Ian Botham’s 383 Test wickets looked insurmountable; now Anderson and Stuart Broad have left the figure in the distant past.
For Naseem, his target appears just as far away as it did for Anderson all those years ago. He needs another 402 wickets to go past Wasim Akram, but at 17, with the world at his feet and blessed with a pure action that Michael Vaughan compares to Fred Trueman’s, Naseem can fulfil predictions.
His pace is comparable with Jofra Archer’s, but he has more skills with the ability to bowl inswing and outswing. He spent lockdown in Pakistan practising with the Dukes ball to prepare for England and is now working in England under the eye of Waqar Younis. After just four Tests he has 13 wickets at an average of 26, one five-wicket haul and a hat-trick. All this before reaching the legal driving age in Pakistan.
He grew up with the tape ball, and did not bowl with a proper cricket ball until he attended trials in the Lower Dir district in Pakistan’s remote north-western province, impressing so much that an uncle took him to Lahore at 13 to enrol at the Abdul Qadir cricket academy.
Qadir, the great Pakistan leg-spinner, passed away suddenly last year but his son, Sulaman, coached Naseem and remembers a naturally skilful bowler with an ability to learn quickly. To move to a city an eight-hour drive away from your family – who have little interest in cricket – and chase a dream takes some courage for a 13-year-old. “The day I saw him I was sure he could be a very good bowler,” Sulaman told The Daily Telegraph. “He is mentally tough because when he came to Lahore he was young and he was struggling with things and he grew up quickly and he survived in difficult times.”
Naseem faced the pressure of having to prove himself to a family sceptical that cricket could be a full-time career. It did not take long. He was selected for Lahore Under-16s aged 13 and Pakistan Under-16s aged 14. “Then [his] parents realised he has a talent,” Sulaman says. After national age-group recognition, he was paid to play for regional teams, a sign others were investing in his talent. “And then the burden goes off and after that he settled and now he’s doing well,” Sulaman adds.
He was featured on a Pakistan television talent show impressing judge Andy Roberts, but by then was already carving out a reputation. He was picked to go on tour to Australia having played only six first-class games.
Naseem shook up Australia on his Test debut last year, hitting Usman Khawaja and dismissing Marcus Harris with a bouncer. He followed it up by becoming the youngest bowler to take five wickets in a Test innings. He then became the youngest to take a Test hat-trick in