At the age of just 20, Shaheen Shah Afridi has already established a reputation as one of Pakistan cricket's best fast-bowlers in all formats. He further continued to enhance his credentials as a top-class bowler in the fifth edition of the Pakistan Super League where he ended up as the second-highest wicket-taker with 13 wickets when the tournament was interrupted due to concerns about the Coronavirus Pandemic.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Afridi spoke about his experience of participating in three editions of the Pakistan Super League, how Lahore Qalandars turned around a dismal start to the season to get to the semi-final stage of PSL 5, his experience of working with Azhar Mahmood and Waqar Younis and how he is playing his part in charitable work during the ongoing Coronavirus crisis.
By Amir Husain (11th April, 2020)
PakPassion.net: What is it like playing against some of the best cricketing talents around the world during the Pakistan Super League?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: The PSL experience for me has been fantastic as this is the tournament that has helped in my recognition as a good quality fast-bowler and it is mainly because of this exposure that I was able to find myself in the Pakistan national side. Of course, the experience of playing against and alongside some top names in T20 cricket, as well as sharing the dressing room with such personalities during each of the three PSL tournaments that I have played in, has been great in itself.
PakPassion.net: What sort of learning have you got from taking part in PSL, especially in your dealing with senior players?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: I was very new to top-level cricket when I first played in the PSL and I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to improve on many aspects of my game. So, for example, not only did I get to learn how one is expected to bowl in T20 matches from T20 specialists but due to the fact that some of the bowlers were Test and ODI cricketers, I was also able to get tips on how one should be bowling in ODIs and Tests as well. The beauty of playing in the PSL is that you get lots of good advice from experienced international players and all that comes very handy when one plays international cricket.
PakPassion.net: As a bowler, what can you learn from having an aggressive batsman like Ben Dunk in your team?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: Ben Dunk is a special player and the aggressive style of batting that he showed to all during the tournament was really amazing. His match-winning innings of 99* against Karachi Kings was absolutely wonderful to watch. Personally speaking, I really enjoyed bowling to Ben in the nets as it’s always a great challenge to bowl to such high-quality batsmen and it’s a good opportunity to learn. Of course, it wasn’t just Ben but the likes of Chris Lynn, Mohammad Hafeez and Fakhar Zaman that I had a lot of fun bowling to. Since I was in good form this PSL, it wasn’t all one-sided in the Qalandars’ nets!
PakPassion.net: Which batsman was the most difficult to bowl against during the PSL?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: Amongst all the world’s top batsmen and also in the PSL, Babar Azam is my favourite and he was also the most difficult batsman I had the chance to bowl to during the PSL. I really enjoy watching him play the way he does and since I share a Pakistan dressing room with him as well, I have had the pleasure of seeing him improve further and become one of the top batsmen in all formats of the game. So, it’s always a pleasure and very satisfying when I was able to bowl to him.
All Pakistan players playing in the PSL are friends and enjoy playing against each other but to me, the whole fun of playing cricket is about the competition. The fact is that we do always look forward to competing with each other and look to outplay each other as this also helps us to become better players which will eventually help us in our international careers too. Simply speaking, if I know how to bowl well to a number-one ranked batsman like Babar Azam, then I can also do the same to a similar batsman from a different country as well.
PakPassion.net: What’s the most enjoyable aspect of playing at the PSL?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: I have always said that the PSL has played a big role in my development as a cricketer and I have improved a lot since I started playing in this tournament. Especially in 2020, when I got a chance to play in front of packed houses at home, it really helped me develop my game and to feel motivated as well. To me this experience has really helped me grow as a cricketer and of course was very enjoyable as well.
PakPassion.net: Does playing in T20 leagues like the PSL - make you more susceptible to injuries?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: You can get injured at any time whilst playing any form of cricket or indeed when taking part in any sort of outdoor activity also. It's my aim to always try and keep my fitness in good order and to ensure that I am always ready to play for my country. The fact is that whatever format of the game I play, my aim is to take care of my fitness as that’s the only way I can bowl well and also bowl fast for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: You must have been very pleased with how things went for Lahore Qalandars during PSL 5?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: To be honest, when we lost the initial games we started to hear familiar negative comments from outsiders which said that we would once again, as in previous seasons, end up in the last position in the points table. But what changed was the superb team effort of our team lead by our senior players like Ben Dunk, Chris Lynn, Mohammad Hafeez, and Fakhar Zaman. They were the ones who motivated the side on and off the field and helped us overcome any mental hurdles.
As for me, I was playing with a fractured thumb on my bowling hand and there was as a time when I was thinking of not playing any further games in the tournament. But what changed my mind was the advice of my father and elder brother Riaz Afridi who convinced me to carry on despite the injury as they felt that the team needed me to play on. This is the sort of effort that got us to the semi-final stage which is not what many people initially thought we were capable of. Hopefully, whenever the PSL is resumed, we will give it our 100% and qualify for the final and then try and win the tournament. We have been waiting for 5 years to get to the top in this tournament and God Willing, if we get a chance to compete in the semi-final, we will make it count.
PakPassion.net: What is the key reason behind your improved ability to swing the ball into right-handed batsmen?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: From the time I started to play at the Under-16 level, I was bowling more out-swinging deliveries and that is something that Mudassar Nazar helped me counter. Also, my elder brother Riaz Afridi and other coaches like Mushtaq Ahmed, Azhar Mahmood and lately Waqar Younis have all worked with me on this problem. They all told me that I can become a very successful bowler and can take a lot of wickets by bowling inswing as well. They all felt that having the ability to bowl both types of swing and with variety will help me become a better bowler in all three formats of the game. So, I have worked hard on this aspect of my bowling and the results have been very good for me as we saw during the PSL.
PakPassion.net: How much have Azhar Mahmood and Waqar Younis helped you in developing your bowling?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: I have been extremely lucky and feel honoured that I have had the chance to work with two very experienced bowling coaches. Waqar Younis is a legendary bowler and so to be able to learn from him is like a dream come true for me, and Azhar Mahmood’s vast experience as a bowler and coach has also made a big difference to my bowling. Whilst Azhar is not with the Pakistan side anymore, I still stay in touch with him and keep on asking him for advice when I can. But this sort of advice is something any cricketer will always need to become a better player and that is why I value it so much. This sort of help is not just limited to just my recent coaches, but I am still learning from my first coach Riaz Afridi who incidentally also provided me the inspiration to play cricket in the first place.
PakPassion.net: How have you improved your ability to bowl yorkers?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: I have worked very hard to be able to bowl good yorkers and this started from around the time we played in the 2019 World Cup where Azhar Mahmood really helped me bowl this ball more effectively. In fact, even before the World Cup, I asked Waqar Younis for his help as I was finding it difficult to bowl them at that time. He also helped me out for the same issue during my stint at the NCA when I was recovering from dengue fever. If you can’t learn how to bowl yorkers from Waqar Younis, then you will never learn how to bowl them. All this was very important as a bouncer and a yorker are two of the main weapons of any fast-bowler and if you have these in your armoury then you can bowl really well. So, I am glad that I was helped by both Azhar Mahmood and Waqar Younis in this case and as we saw in the PSL, I bowled very well and hopefully, I will improve further in the future.
PakPassion.net: Looking ahead, what are your long term aims?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: My main aim is to improve my fitness as we have a tough few international series coming up and also the amount of cricket we play has also increased over time. And then I have some goals such as improving my bowling and increasing my pace further. Although my pace has increased in recent times, I am also very interested in making sure my line and length become more accurate and consistent as well.
PakPassion.net: What are you doing nowadays due to this enforced break from cricket caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: This is a very tough time that we are all enduring due to the Coronavirus and I pray to the Almighty that we overcome this problem as soon as we can. I spend the day helping out people who are less fortunate than me as they need assistance and I have also been honoured to be helping out the Shahid Afridi Foundation and other NGOs in distributing supplies in rural areas. I have a small gym setup at home which I also use to stay fit as that’s all we can do for now. I suppose the only positive aspect of this situation is that I am able to spend more time with my family which would not be possible if cricket was still being played.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that your good performance in the PSL will help you with your future assignment with Hampshire in the Vitality blast?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: I am a firm believer in not looking too far ahead and concentrating on the task at hand, so during the PSL all I wanted to do was to become the top wicket-taker and I feel I was moving well in that direction with 13 wickets in 9 games. I suppose, if the PSL is resumed, I could still end up at that position as there is at least one more game left for me to participate in. Whilst there is still time for my Hampshire assignment where I will play in the Vitality Blast, I am confident that I will do well and make my country proud as well.