Teen backs odds to reach the top

Mercury (Hobart) - - SPORT - ROBERT CRADDOCK AND BEN HORNE

IT’S not just the fact that Pak­istani fast bowler Naseem Shah is 16 that makes his Test de­but at the Gabba to­day one of the most re­mark­able cricket sto­ries of the mod­ern era.

It’s also that his lo­cal dis­trict, Lower Dir, has, ac­cord­ing to him, no proper pitches or cricket fa­cil­i­ties, that only two years ago he did not even own a pair of spikes, and that his fa­ther tried to talk him out of play­ing cricket at all.

Then there’s the fact that since he first be­came aware of cricket, Pak­istan has not even hosted a Test match, given it has been a no-go zone for the five-day game since the Lahore bomb­ing of 2009.

So there was ev­ery rea­son why this ro­bust-look­ing young­ster from Pak­istan’s wild north-west fron­tier land should have been one of count­less “coulda-been” cham­pi­ons’ lost in a chaotic sys­tem through no fault of their own.

Yet some­how, mirac­u­lously, Naseem Shah will play a Test at the age of 16 years, 277 days — the youngest player ever to play a Test in Aus­tralia.

It’s a beau­ti­ful mo­ment for the game, with his team­mates mar­vel­ling at the courage Naseem dis­played to bowl a with­er­ing spell against Aus­tralia A last week, just 24 hours af­ter be­ing in­formed that his mother had died.

Anti-cor­rup­tion of­fi­cials gave Pak­istan per­mis­sion to waive the strict rules re­gard­ing mo­bile phones in dress­ing rooms to al­low Naseem to ring his broth­ers, who urged him to stay with the team and do a lit­tle job for his coun­try.

“We are def­i­nitely look­ing to play him — he is bowl­ing re­ally well,’’ Pak­istan cap­tain Azhar Ali said. “Not many play­ers can be at that stan­dard early, but he is one of them.’’

Pic­ture: GETTY

YOUNG GUN: Pak­istan’s Naseem Shah is mak­ing his Test de­but to­day.

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