Shaheen Shah Afridi delivers a ball during the second day of the third Test match between Pakistan and Australia at the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium. File / AFP
Paceman Shaheen Shah Afridi hopes Pakistan will reap the benefits of their players’ involvement in English county cricket as he prepares for his home debut with Middlesex.
The young bowler is one of 10 Pakistani cricketers who have signed as overseas players for at least part of the 2022 season.
The high-profile contingent also includes fellow internationals Mohammad Abbas, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali and Mohammad Rizwan.
“I think, this year, I saw like nine or 10 players here and that’s good for Pakistan cricket,” Afridi said on Wednesday, on the eve of Middlesex’s County Championship match against Leicestershire at Lord’s.
Since the 2019 World Cup in England and Wales, Pakistan have been frequent visitors to England despite the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2020 they lost a three-match Test series 1-0 and drew a Twenty20 campaign 1-1, while last year Pakistan were beaten 3-0 in a one-day international campaign and went down 2-1 in a T20 contest.
Left-arm fast bowler Afridi, 22, said the team had under-performed. “We played not good cricket here as a team, so now I think the top guys are all there,” he said. “So maybe it will be good for us (to get to know) the conditions and the pitches. Maybe this will help the national team as well.”
Pakistan players have long been familiar to fans of English domestic cricket.
Asif Iqbal (Kent), batting great Zaheer Abbas (Gloucestershire) and star all-rounder Imran Khan (Sussex), recently ousted as Pakistan’s prime minister, all became familiar figures on the county scene from the 1960s onwards.
Alternative to IPL
But the expansion of the international programme in recent decades, allied to the growth of franchise T20 cricket, means top overseas cricketers are increasingly unlikely to spend an entire English season at a club.
Pakistan players, however, are effectively banned from participating in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the world’s most high-profile Twenty20 competition, on political grounds.
And that has made county cricket an increasingly attractive option.
Afridi took four wickets on his Middlesex debut in an innings victory away to Glamorgan last week, twice dismissing Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne, the world’s top-ranked Test batsman.
Masood has started the season in breathtaking form, with 611 runs under his belt for Derbyshire so far this season, including two double centuries.
Hasan Ali has impressed with the ball for Lancashire and Rauf has been among the wickets for Yorkshire.
“I just caught up with Haris and Naseem (Shah, at Gloucestershire),” said Afridi, who is one of the rising stars of the world game. “We met together and took some time together.
“Actually, that’s a good sign for Pakistan cricket — the top cricketers are here. They perform really well, Hasan and Shan, and everyone performs really well — Haris — so it’s good for Pakistan cricket as well.”
Afridi’s captain at second-division Middlesex is Peter Handscomb and the Australia batsman is in no doubt about the benefits of prolonged exposure to a foreign environment.
“I think playing anywhere in the world and playing in different conditions always improves your game,” he said.