KARACHI: Already a phenomenon at the international arena as greenhorn, the wiry teenage figure of Naseem Shah now embarks on probably the most important mission of his young cricketing life when he accompanies the Pakistan squad for the England tour in a couple of weeks time.

Having turned just 17 on Feb 15 this year, the right-arm tearaway from Lower Dir has made rapid strides in Test cricket by becoming the youngest-ever fast bowler to grab a five-for at a tender age of 16 years and 307 days and the second youngest overall — after countryman Nasim-ul-Ghani who was 16 years and 303 days old when he took 5-116 against West Indies at Georgetown in March 1958 — by claiming 5-31 versus Sri Lanka in Pakistan’s 263-run victory at Karachi last December.

Naseem then capped off a memorable season by being the youngest to pick up a Test hat-trick — he was 16 years and 359 days — when he dismissed Najmul Hossain Shanto, nightwatchman Taijul Islam and the experienced Mahmudullah during Pakistan’s crushing innings and 44-run defeat of Bangladesh at Rawalpindi in February, while eclipsing Bangladeshi leg-spinning all-rounder Alok Kapali’s feat against Pakistan in the 2003 Multan Test.

“This is indeed a learning process being an upcoming cricketer at the international level. But Alhamdulillah I feel very proud in breaking a couple of records at the start of my career, something I never dreamt of. For me the biggest joy is that the records now belong to Pakistan,” Naseem told an online media conference on Wednesday.

“For a youngster I can say these performances serve as great inspiration and enhances the individual’s confidence level. Don’t have enough words to offer gratitude to Allah for his kindness,” Naseem, who has thus far played only four Tests in which he captured 13 wickets at 26.84, remarked.

The young speedster sounded upbeat for the forthcoming three-match Test series in England.

“Coming to the tour of England, it would be my first trip and I’m overly excited at the prospects of playing in a new environment. The plus point for our team is that West Indies will be playing there before us.

“The change in rules won’t matter from my perspective and the saliva ban imposed by the ICC won’t be a worrying factor as being generally assumed in some quarters. I’ll be keenly following the outcome of the England-West Indies Tests along with my [bowling] mates and Waqar Younis [Pakistan bowling coach].

“To be honest, being part of the England series really excites me because we’ll be preparing as intensely as we can to combat the conditions. I think Pakistan have a decent attack in the pace-bowling department with good mix of experience and youth to challenge England all the way. This will be a competitive series,” Naseem vowed.

The well-built fast bowler warned England not to underestimate him in the Test series, saying it would be their “big loss” if they do.

“If they treat me like a small kid, it will be their big loss,” Naseem said. “Age doesn’t matter, it’s my bowling that matters -- so they need to take me seriously.”

Meanwhile, Naseem pointed out despite International Cricket Council (ICC) tweaking some of the playing conditions for the safety of players because of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, he is eagerly looking forward to the England tour.

“We are fully aware of the situation around the world due to Covid-19 and the PCB has given us [players and backroom staff] a comprehensive briefing about the dangers arising out of this pandemic. We’ll be obviously following the SOPs [standard operating procedures] to stay as safe as possible,” Naseem said in a confident tone.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2020