At just 20 years of age, Shaheen Shah Afridi has established himself as an integral part of the Pakistan squad in all three formats. Having represented Pakistan 45 times, the young fast-bowler is already widely regarded as one of the world’s top bowling talents.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Afridi reflected upon his own performance on the recently concluded tour of England, how Naseem Shah and he are handling the weight of expectations placed on their shoulders, why he hopes that India and Pakistan resume cricketing rivalries and his aim to help Pakistan win a World Cup.
By Amir Husain (30th September, 2020)
PakPassion.net: Tell us about your experience at Hampshire during the Vitality T20 Blast tournament.
Shaheen Shah Afridi: Playing for Hampshire in the T20 Blast is my first experience in a major T20 League outside the Pakistan Super League and this has been a good learning experience. I am learning a lot from my time at Hampshire and am getting to know how cricket is played in this part of the world. Obviously, the process of learning never stops for any cricketer and I am really enjoying my time here and hopefully not only can I put whatever I learn here to good use when I represent Pakistan next but also share this knowledge with my team-mates.
PakPassion.net: Your best performance for Hampshire came in your last match. That must have been very pleasing taking 6 for 19?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: It was really satisfying to have performed so well in my last match for Hampshire in the T20 Blast and taken 6/19 to help them win. I was obviously a little frustrated during the tournament as I could only take 1 wicket until the final match, but then this is what cricket is all about. You can only try your best but sometimes these things are not in your hands, however I can only thank the Almighty for helping me perform so well in the last game. To take 6 wickets then was obviously very pleasing and I have never taken 4 wickets in 4 balls before so understandably, I was very happy with my performance and hope it’s something that Hampshire’s fans will be happy with.
PakPassion.net: Tell us about the tour of England and how you adjusted to the bio-secure environment?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: This was a difficult scenario for all of us to face as we hadn’t played cricket for a while and had been sitting at home, waiting patiently to play cricket again. It was great to be back on the field, although it felt a little surreal without any fans. But despite there being no crowd I am very grateful to the PCB and the ECB for arranging the tour and making our stay as comfortable as it could have been given the circumstances. The atmosphere in our camp was excellent and we really enjoyed the time we all spent together. We bonded really well during this time and all in all, we felt quite satisfied with our performances on the tour.
Shaheen Shah Afridi: I think it would be fair to say that one never stops learning as a cricketer, no matter how many games you have under your belt. This process continues throughout your career as you represent your country around the world and against different opponents. The tour of England was a great learning experience for me, and I hope to continue this learning and along the way put in some good performances for Pakistan or for any other team that I am representing.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that the Pakistani bowlers performed to expectations in the Test series?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: Although the final result did not go in our favour, we did play some good and attractive cricket. Whilst we did lose the first Test, we were unlucky to have been unable to get better results in the second and third Tests due to the presence of rain. All in all, our guys played some good cricket with Naseem Shah and Mohammad Abbas putting in some good performances with the ball. Before the series we had felt that the Dukes ball would favour our style of bowling but unfortunately that didn’t work out. All in all, the tour of England was tough, as they are a strong team in home conditions, with some outstanding players in their red ball and white ball squads. Despite results not going our way, it was a great learning experience for me, and I feel it’s the sort of tour that will help me become a better cricketer in future
PakPassion.net: There was some criticism of your bowling in England. Were you satisfied with your performance on this tour?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: To be honest, its only when your side wins the series is when you are truly happy. Looking back at the Test series against England, I have all sorts of thoughts in my head revolving around what I could have done better, what went ok and what did not go well. Winning the series for the team would have pleased me no end but since that did not happen, I am not that happy with how things turned out. Having said that, I will say that I am about 50-70% satisfied with my bowling on this tour. I feel that I put in my best effort during this series and the fact is that one can only try their best and then leave the rest to the Almighty.
PakPassion.net: What lessons did you and Naseem Shah learn from the way James Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled during the Test series?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: There is absolutely no doubt that both Anderson and Broad are experienced and world-class bowlers, but one must remember that even they would have had high strike rates when they had started their careers. Both Naseem Shah and I are in the early stages of our careers and are hoping to learn and improve quickly. Just watching two masters of their trade, Anderson and Broad, at work was very beneficial for us. Seeing how they were bowling with the new ball and then the old ball and what sort of fields they set was very impressive and something that hopefully Naseem and I can bring into our game one day. We were also lucky to have someone so experienced like Waqar Younis as our bowling coach. Waqar gave me a lot of guidance during this series and I hope to continue learning from him and applying that learning whenever I play next for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: What’s happened to your outswinger to right-handed batsmen?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: To be honest, I haven’t been able to bowl many outswinging deliveries in my international career so far. This has been the case for the past two years and the closest I can come to bowling outswingers is to angle the ball across batsmen which is what I did during the tour of England. I tried to bowl this way but that just didn’t go according to plan. I suppose how and what you bowl to a specific batsman is based upon one’s reading of his weaknesses, but yes, my attempts at angling the ball across the batsman didn’t work out as expected. The outswinger is something that I really need to work on and develop, as without it, I won’t feel that I can become a complete bowler.
PakPassion.net: How tough is it for a young bowler to adjust to playing all three formats at the international level?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: As a young bowler, all you wish to do is to perform well and help your team win matches. Of course, participating in all three formats of the game is very tough. It’s a demanding ask for any bowler as the team strategies and the pace of the game is totally different in each of the formats and the way the captain and team management wish to utilize your skills is a challenge in itself. But my aim is to do my best for Pakistan, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s in the red or white ball format.
PakPassion.net: How does it feel for Naseem and you to be compared to the likes of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram at such an early stage of your career?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: It’s perfectly natural for people to feel optimistic about any young player who is representing their country. The hopes and dreams of our fans and the love they have for us gives rise to such comparisons and unfortunately the age of the player doesn’t matter. From my point of view, it is indeed an honour for both Naseem and I to be compared to the two Ws but our objective is not only to follow in their footsteps but to create our own place in history so that people will know us as two bowlers who achieved so much for Pakistan. I know that we have a long way to go but we will try our best to achieve those goals.
PakPassion.net: How do you cope with the pressure from fans and supporters at such a young age?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: As a cricketer you are always faced with pressure at whatever level of cricket you are playing in. Whether you are playing for your national side, your franchise or even a club game, it’s all about knowing how to handle pressure. In my case, whenever I play for Pakistan, I get great support from the team management, coaching staff, captain and above all my team-mates. This sort of support is morale-boosting and has helped me perform well up till now and will also drive me to do better in the future as well.
PakPassion.net: It seems that expectations of Pakistani cricketers at a young age seem to be unrealistic from many. Does that make life difficult for upcoming Pakistani cricketers?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: It stands to reason that whilst you may have a lot of talent, it will only get you so far. What really matters is the amount of hard work you put in and that is my message to all youngsters in Pakistan in any profession. I can only say that hard work does pay off, but also expectations have to be realistic, as young cricketers cannot become sensations overnight. Fans need to be patient and understand that there will be good days and bad days, but the effort level will always be there from Pakistani cricketers.
PakPassion.net: You must have many aims and goals that you want to achieve during your career?
Shaheen Shah Afridi: My coach Abdul Rehman has always told me to not worry about the past as that is now history. Instead it’s best to enjoy and concentrate on doing well today and to always be prepared for what lies ahead in future. So, following this advice I am working hard now and keeping an eye on the future without worrying about it too much.
If we speak of goals it would be great if I am selected to play for Pakistan in the 2021 T20 World Cup and I can help us win that tournament. I’d love to be part of a World Cup winning squad one day. It’s always a great honour to be part of a World Cup winning squad as we can see that even today, people speak in glowing terms about our legendary cricketers who won the 1992 World Cup. The same applies to the glory associated with the winners of the 2009 T20 World Cup, especially the likes of Younis Khan who captained the side and Shahid Afridi who was Man of the Match in the final. Of course, who can forget how our team did the nation proud in the 2017 Champions Trophy so being part of such a squad is always great but whether I am part of the squad or not, I would love for Pakistan to be the number one side in the world in all formats.