Pakistan’s star pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi is just one wicket away from recording a century of wickets in Test cricket, as he makes a return to the red-ball cricket after almost a year-long hiatus.
When Shaheen opened the bowling for Pakistan on Tuesday in a two-day warm-up fixture against Sri Lanka at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, Hambantota, it was almost after a year that he had donned whites for his country after injuring his knee in the first of the two Tests at Galle last year.
The proceedings had a similar beginning — searing pace, lethal swing and the ball hitting precise lengths. He took three wickets for 36 runs in 12 overs, three of which were maidens, as Pakistan bowled out the opposition for 196 before tea in the first innings.
On the last day, he returned 4-2-2-1 as the hosts could only manage 88 for four after Pakistan, at the back of half-centuries by Shan Masood, Babar Azam and Saud Shakeel, put 342.
“I am very excited to be making my Test comeback in the country where I was injured,” Shaheen told PCB Digital in Hambantota.
“Injuries are part of an athlete’s life, but it is good to be back. I enjoy red-ball cricket a lot and I am one wicket away from a century of Test wickets, which would be a big achievement for me.”
The nature of injury demanded his return be gradual and systematic, and he had not played a first-class match since the fourth morning of the first Test at Galle when he landed awkwardly at the boundary trying to stop the ball.
He made his international return in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia in October last year but twisted his knee in the final, which saw him miss the home series against England (Tests) and New Zealand (Tests and ODIs).
He finally returned earlier this year for Lahore Qalandars to help them retain the Pakistan Super League title before featuring in April’s 10-match limited-overs series against New Zealand.
Prior to being named in the Test side for these two Tests, which are Pakistan’s first in the third cycle of the ICC World Test Championship, Shaheen was turning out for Nottinghamshire, where he ensured he met the desired workload levels to get in the rhythm.
“It takes time to get used to red-ball cricket after playing white-ball,” he said, adding: “But the Karachi camp proved beneficial for me. Test cricket demands patience and you have to work in partnerships with fellow bowlers. Over the last year, I have played more white-ball matches, but when I was playing in the United Kingdom, I bowled extra overs after matches — even with the red ball — to meet the desired workload.
“It seems like yesterday when I was injured. I will be making my Test return at the same ground where I was injured. I was talking to our physiotherapist about it.
“It is a matter of pride to represent Pakistan in any format and I enjoy playing for Pakistan. I hope we will have a good beginning to this cycle of the World Test Championship and we will qualify for the final, something we have missed on in the last two iterations,” the pacer said.
Shaheen is about to achieve the feat of becoming the 11th pacer from Pakistan to have taken 100 Test wickets. But what makes his return more exciting is the milestone in line.
The seamer said there was a lot of excitement for the 100th wicket too, but it has been a long wait for the pacer.
“I was only one wicket away and the new ball was about to be available,” he said while recalling the first Test against Galle 12 months ago.
“I was planning to utilise the new ball to reach that milestone, but I got injured before we got the new ball. So, I have had to wait a lot. It is very tough to be away from cricket, but time has helped me learn a lot, which will help me perform well for Pakistan across formats.”
His 99 wickets have come in only 25 matches at an average of 24.86. He also has four five-wicket hauls and one 10-for in the match. Shaheen, however, has added another dimension to his game by strengthening his batting during rehabilitation.
His smoking 44 not out off just 15 balls set up Lahore Qalandars’ thrilling win over Multan Sultans in the PSL 8 final and he let his slogging abilities known in the international arena when he smashed New Zealand’s Blair Tickner for 22 (three sixes and a four) in the last over of the fourth One-Day International in Karachi to lift Pakistan to 334.
“I am a bowler first,” he laughed. “But, whenever I will get a chance to make an impact with the bat for my country, I would do so.”