A little more than a week after his mother’s death, 16-year-old Naseem Shah of Pakistan has become the youngest cricketer in history to make his test debut in Australia.
Naseem got plenty of attention in a tour game in Perth last week not only because he performed well against some experienced international batsmen, but also because it came so soon after his mother passed away.
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.
“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 February 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.
In Thursday's game, when Pakistan team caption Azhar Ali won the toss and elected to bat, it seemed likely Naseem’s involvement on day one of the two-test series would be limited.
But after five wickets fell in the second session, Autralian fast bowler Mitchell Starc took two wickets on consecutive deliveries later in the day in the first over with the new ball, suddenly Naseem was at the crease with Pakistan in serious trouble at 227-8 and struggling to survive until stumps.
Starc had bowled Yasir Shah (26) and had Shaheen Shah Afridi (0) caught behind on the two previous deliveries and Naseem knew to expect a full, fast ball aimed at his feet. He managed to get bat on ball, squeezing an inside edge away to the legside and taking off for a quick single, hoping to register his first run in test cricket.
But senior batsman Asad Shafiq sent him back, not wanting to expose the youngster immediately to Pat Cummins potentially for a full over.
The protective instinct cost Shafiq, his 134-ball stand ending when he was bowled four balls later by Cummins for 76. It was the third Pakistan wicket to fall with the total at 227.
Naseem got off the mark, even hit a Starc full-toss to the boundary, and put on 13 for the last wicket with Imran Khan (5) before he was finally out for seven.
He’ll get the ball in his hand early Friday, when he can really show what he’s for. Shafiq said the young bowler was full of confidence and had a lot of mental strength. Azhar said everyone was looking forward to seeing Naseem bowl.