First came the set up. The last ball of the fourth over to Tom Latham went away. The left-handed Latham, who had played more than 5,500 balls in Test cricket, left it alone. The first two balls of the sixth over, the third Test over that young Shaheen Shah Afridi had ever bowled in his life, did the same. They were offered the same shoulder arms treatment.
The third ball too moved away a little from Latham, but he reached forward for a defensive prod. Leather hit wood. They say there is nothing more satisfying for a batsman than feeling the ball on the middle of the bat.
Once Latham was lulled into a false sense of security, Afridi delivered the killer strike; the one that jags back in. It rapped him on the pads. The left-armer turned around and screamed. The finger did not go up. Not out, said the umpire. But thank god for technology. Three reds sealed Latham’s fate, the decision was overturned and Afridi flashed a smile that will almost certainly light up television sets across the globe for years to come.
There were to be no more wickets and that genius Yasir Shah would soon remove him from the limelight. But that was to be expected. This is no place for fast-bowlers and, after all, this is Yasir’s turf.
Shunned to the role of second fiddle, Afridi quietly went about doing the job he must have known he was destined to do on his debut. There were to be no more wickets but there were to be no easy runs either. An economy of just 2.52 in 17 overs in his first day of Test cricket bears witness to that.
Afridi is one of the select few who is blessed with everything a pacer can hope for. He has already shown he has the pace, the movement, the control and the mental toughness required to exceed at the highest level of cricket.
Yet he is only 18. And while that must be lauded and celebrated, it must be received with caution. A teenage body and mind can only take so much action at this level of any sport. The amount of cricket he has played in 2018 is sure to take its toll.
It bears reminding that it was just earlier this year that he was playing in the U19 World Cup that started his meteoric rise in the first place. Now he has played in six ODIs and seven T20Is alongside his first Test.
His performances in both limited-over formats — averaging 17.61 in ODIs and 18.45 in T20Is — mean he has become a regular in the side.
Pakistan next travel to South Africa and the prospect of watching 18-year-old Shaheen Shah Afridi play on seamers’ paradise has already gotten fans excited. The left-armer no longer the second fiddle, but a battering ram; unleashed in all his prodigious glory.
Yet as enticing as that prospect may be, the team management must proceed with caution. It is important to protect Afridi — from corruptors, from complacency, from fatigue, from injury and, even though he doesn’t seem the type, from himself if necessary.
Barring calamity, Afridi is certain to feature in South Africa; as he should be. But it is up to Mickey Arthur and Sarfraz Ahmed to figure out how much of a strain he can take before he crumbles.
Err, and they may throw away arguably the most exciting fast-bowling talent of this decade.