New dawn for cricket

Published March 1, 2022

HAVING led the Lahore Qalandars to their maiden Pakistan Super League title, Shaheen Shah Afridi — like his other Pakistan teammates — faces a quick turnaround from the razzmatazz of the country’s premier T20 tournament to the hard grind of international Test cricket.

After all, the speculation over whether or not they would come, and much deliberation, Australia have arrived for their first tour of Pakistan in 24 years. On a ‘Super Sunday’ for Pakistan cricket, Australia landed in Islamabad early in the morning before the climax of the first PSL season played in its entirety in the country just before midnight in Lahore. It was already Monday by the time Shaheen lifted the trophy as the Qalandars finally tasted glory after disappointments and a final heartbreak — in 2020 — in the previous six seasons. This, incredibly, was Shaheen’s first season as Qalandars’ captain.

The 21-year-old reigning ICC Cricketer of the Year represents the future of Pakistan cricket, having established himself as the national team’s pace bowling spearhead. He, alongside Pakistan’s latest crop of globally recognised stars including skipper Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan — who was leading runners-up Multan Sultans in Sunday’s PSL final — will now look to inspire the national team in the three-Test series against Australia starting this week in Rawalpindi before matches in Karachi and Lahore. Three One-Day Internationals and a Twenty20 game will follow where the trio will be joined by Islamabad United captain Shadab Khan.

PSL has moulded these young players into leaders, enhancing the leadership trait in the team. That was evident in Pakistan’s strong performances at the end of last year, including their run to the semi-finals of the Twenty20 World Cup where they lost to eventual champions Australia.

There is also a sense of perfect timing with the way these stars have emerged; it coincided with the full-fledged return of international cricket to the country starting with Australia’s first tour since 1998 — a bygone era in many ways. The last time they toured, Shaheen wasn’t even born. Babar had just turned four while Rizwan was six.

In a press conference after Australia’s arrival, its Test captain Pat Cummins was quick to point out that an entire generation of cricketers from Down Under had missed the chance to play in Pakistan. But with international cricket returning quickly to the country, with New Zealand and England due to tour later this year, strong performances will certainly help Pakistan make up for lost time.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2022

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