ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has a long history of unearthing raw, talented players and in teenage leg-spinner Shadab Khan, it looks like they may have discovered another star in the making.
The 18-year-old made his international debut in last week’s Twenty20 series against the West Indies and could hardly have been more impressive, capturing 10 wickets against the world champions to be named player-of-the-series.
His main attacking weapon is the googly — a delivery that spins from the off side towards leg — baffling batsmen expecting the ball to turn the other way.
“I know my googlies are getting famous, but that’s not the only one,” Shadab told Associated Press from Guyana on Monday.
“I really work hard on leg-spin and flippers too and will try to be the best in all three varieties.”
Shadab caught the eye of the senior national selectors when he played in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) for defending champions Islamabad United led by Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq.
He took nine wickets in eight matches and was rewarded for his efforts by being fast-tracked into the Pakistan limited-overs squad for the series against the West Indies.
Pakistan’s limited-overs captain Sarfraz Ahmed expects Shadab could play test matches in the near future if he continues his rapid progression.
“I believe that if I put in more hard work, I will definitely get more rewards in international cricket,” Shadab said.
A reluctant spinner, Shadab comes from Mianwali, which is also the home town of Misbah and Pakistan’s World Cup-winning skipper Imran Khan.
In 2010, he shifted to Rawalpindi, the hometown of another Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar, and like millions of Pakistani youngsters, his first love was pace bowling.
It was only when he was at the Siddique Akbar Club in Rawalpindi that he was spotted by the club’s president Sajjad Ahmed, who encouraged him to try wrist spin.
“When I started playing club cricket I used to be a fast bowler,” Shadab said. “But then our president of the club told me to start bowling leg-spin and I started working hard on this art.”
Sajjad said he immediately knew Shadab had the talent to play at the highest level.
“He worked hard and I knew that he would get his chance at international level,” Sajjad told the AP.
It wasn’t long before others began to think the same. In 2015, Shadab was part of the Pakistan U-17 team which played against England in the UAE. He took 10 wickets in four one-day games.
Last year, he was the joint leading wicket-taker with 11 wickets at the U-19 World Cup.
He was promoted to the Pakistan ‘A’ team and made his first-class debut against Sri Lanka, scoring 48 runs and taking five wickets. Then he followed that by taking 14 wickets and hitting 132 runs in the series against Zimbabwe ‘A’.
Shadab has been fine-tuning his skills under the guidance of Islamabad United coaches Dean Jones and Wasim Akram and also with Mushtaq Ahmed at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore.
“I used to bowl wide of the crease and later I was taught by Dean Jones which has benefited me a lot.”
Jones, the former Australian international batsman, said he could not be more impressed by the attributes he sees in Shadab.
“The very first time Wasim and I saw Shadab in the nets, we looked at each other and said, ‘this boy is pure gold’,” Jones said.
“He is an interesting player to coach and I have said this before as well, that for an 18-year-old-kid he has the head of a 30-year-old on him.
“He has pretty much hit the ground running and yes, he will get whacked a few times in his career but Pakistan have something special there.”
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2017