Pakistan unleashes 16-year-old Naseem Shah on Australia

JOHN PYE

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Little more than a week after his mother’s death, 16-year-old Naseem Shah has become the youngest cricketer ever to make his test debut in Australia.

Naseem got plenty of attention in a tour game in Perth last week not only because he tested the resolve of some experienced international batsmen, but also because it came so soon after his mother died in Pakistan.

Flight logistics and religious customs meant Naseem couldn’t make it home in time for the funeral. So, with the full support of his family, he stayed in Australia and instead bowled in the second innings of Pakistan’s tour game against Australia A that netted 1-21, including the wicket of test opener Marcus Harris, in a spell that ultimately earned him his test debut.

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“It was very emotional this morning when he got his cap,” Pakistan captain Azhar Ali said in a broadcast interview ahead of the first test on Thursday. “We’re really excited to see Naseem play.”

Naseem was born on Feb. 15, 2003, so he’s about three months short of his 17th birthday. Other Pakistan players have made test debuts at a younger age, including fast bowler Aaqib Javed, who was 16 years, 189 days when he played New Zealand in 1989. Ian Craig, at 17 years and 239 days, was the youngest Australian to make his test debut when he started against South Africa in Melbourne in 1953.

But few players have had such attention from some of the greats of the game, including Waqar Younis.

Australia vice-captain Pat Cummins, who made his test debut at 18 but then didn’t play another test for six years because of injury, said youth could be an advantage for Naseem.

"By all reports, he bowls fast, is quite lively and sometimes that's almost better, when you start off a little bit naive," Cummins said. “You just want to go out and bowl fast and not be clouded by the baggage of a few long days in the dirt."

Naseem will have to wait a while longer to get the ball into his hand in the test arena, after Azhar won the toss and elected to bat first at the Gabba.

But Azhar thinks his young fast bowler has the resilience to handle just about anything, particularly after last week.

“Obviously, it was a hard time for him, but he coped with it and he came out and bowled the very next day, which is very heartening,” Azhar said on the eve of the first test.

He has played with Naseem at first-class level and thinks the young speedster has the fitness and the mental attitude to cope in cricket’s most elite level. And he’s not concerned about the home team’s daunting record at the Gabba, where Australia is unbeaten since 1988.

“Not many players can reach (test) standard so early, but there are exceptions and he’s one of them,” Azhar said. “When I saw him first, I was so surprised. The control he had, the pace he had, and the temperament and the composure when he bowls is so exciting to see.”

Pakistan hasn’t won a test match in Australia since 1995, but Azhar is putting faith in his young fast bowlers to help the team end that drought.

“We go in here with a lot of confidence. We have the talent to do well here. We're very confident that if we execute our skills ... (we can) beat Australia. To do that, I think we have to keep believing and also play with no fear.”

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