The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on Tuesday rejected reports that teenage pacer Naseem Shah was withdrawn from the Pakistan U-19 squad for this month’s ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup due to concerns over his actual age.

The PCB, as part of its standard operating procedures, had "rechecked and verified" ages of all potential members of the Pakistan Junior team in November before selecting the squad on December 6, 2019, a statement issued by the board said. It added that Naseem was subsequently named in the side after he met the ICC age eligibility criteria for the tournament, which was set on September 1, 2000.

While rejecting the "impression in a section of the media" that Naseem was pulled out of the U-19 Cricket World Cup due to concerns over his age, the PCB reiterated that he was withdrawn from the squad on the request of the Pakistan men’s senior team management "purely on cricketing reasons".

"In this background, the PCB is disappointed that an attempt has been made to tarnish the credibility and reputation of an emerging fast-bowler with a bright future ahead," the statement said, referring to Naseem.

On Monday, well-informed sources had told Dawn that the PCB's late decision to drop Naseem from the Pakistan Junior team, which is set to participate in the Junior World Cup in South Africa later this month, was most likely for the reason to avoid further controversy over his age in the international media.

Although Naseem had been selected in the U-19 World Cup squad, he was later drafted into the senior team which toured Australia in Nov-Dec 2019 for the two-Test series and gained the limelight as a rookie fast bowler. When the Junior team was in the final stages of preparing for the World Cup, the PCB suddenly announced that the bowler would not be part of the squad for the mega event as head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis had other plans worked out for him.

On the tour of Australia, some questions over Naseem's age were raised in the international media but the PCB categorically denied all such reports and said it totally relies on NADRA's record and that there was no reason to doubt the young pacer’s age. However, some ex-players from Australia, Pakistan and even India still expressed their doubts.

Reliable sources told Dawn that despite defending Naseem's age quite stoutly, the PCB did initiate an investigation at its own level after the Australia tour to set the record straight on the bowler’s age. Sources said that PCB’s doctors in their reports could not ascertain Naseem's exact date of birth because they were of the view that no reliable scientific way is available to determine that, while no international sporting body recognises bone test as the authentic parameter to decide any player’s age.

It may be mentioned that according to an interview published in Dawn in 2016, former West Indian great fast bowler Andy Roberts had mentioned that he had spotted Naseem at a talent hunt programme in Karachi in 2016 and predicted that he would develop into a world-class fast bowler very soon.

“I must say that I very much liked a young fast bowler by the name of Naseem. He is just 16-year-old. I am sorry that I did not have at least two, three weeks’ time to work with him,” the 65-year-old Antiguan pacer had said in the interview. “This fellow is very aggressive, he has real pace and he is so young. He has the passion for the game and if he maintains it, he will reach far. He is a very good prospect.”

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