When Pakistan began their tour match against Australia A in Perth last week, Naseem Shah‘s foremost concern was to show the world why he had been called up to the national squad at the age of 16, and to push for a place in the pace attack for the first Test.
His world, however, was soon turned upside-down by news that his mother had passed away.
Naseem broke down instantly when he heard the news. He wanted to go back home. But the journey of more than 9000km, to Lower Dir in the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, would take more than 48 hours. The funeral couldn’t wait for longer than 24 hours. The PCB’s logistics department tried to arrange his transport, but the quickest route would still take two days.
Naseem’s brothers convinced him to stay back in Australia and make his country proud.
Pakistan asked if they could field a replacement player in the warm-up game, and Cricket Australia was ready to strip the match of first-class status in order to accommodate the incoming player.
In the end, Naseem stayed on, chose to not bowl in the first innings, and came out in the second innings to send down eight hostile overs, taking the wicket of Marcus Harris with a snorter that spat up from just short of a length.
It’s been an ordeal for Naseem, but through it he has had sources of support to lean on, particularly his team-mate and best friend Muhammad Musa, and team manager Mansoor Rehan. The ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit made an exception for Naseem during the match, allowing him to use the team manager’s phone in the dressing room whenever he wished to speak to his family.
“I think a parent is irreplaceable, and the guts and courage he showed coming out to the ground were quite commendable,” Shan Masood, the Pakistan opener, said at a press conference. “At 16, he is that mature. If we only talk about his cricket right now, that is a lot of maturity right there.
“But losing his mother and still stepping out in the field, when he’s all the way in Australia, at the other end of the world… yet he’s not going back, and staying here. Putting his hand up. He wants to do well for the team, for the country. That is commendable. That is going to reward him.
“That is the sort of attitude we are looking for in all the guys and as a team. We are going to stick behind him. All we can offer is support, prayers, and hope for his well-being. We are all very happy the way he is responding and hopefully, he is going to be a star in the making.”
Masood is excited by Naseem’s potential as a fast bowler.
“It’s very exciting to see a 16-year old come to the fore and he’s sort of taken domestic circuit by surprise,” Masood said. “I don’t know if you followed our domestic season, but the pitches were docile and he (18 wickets at 19.27 in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam Trophy) has been the standout bowler. After the sad loss of his mother, I think it took guts, and we should appreciate what he did, stepping out in the field in the second innings at the Optus, producing really good spells. I hope he plays, I am sure if he plays he is going to enjoy bowing on such tracks against a formidable side like Australia.”