In Pakistan there is a saying, you shake a tree and a quartet of fast bowlers would fall. In the Shah household in the Jandol Mayar area of the Lower Dir district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, the adage almost became a reality.
Naeem, fourth among the Shah brothers, played the tape ball cricket tournament but he was more focused on the promise that he made to his mother that he would become a doctor. He has kept his promise, he is a doctor now. But three of his younger siblings – Naseem Shah, Hunain Shah and Ubaid Shah – are scaring the batsmen with their pace.
Naseem, 20, has already made his mark in international cricket. 19-year-old Hunain is making waves in Pakistan’s domestic cricket, while Ubaid, 17, is part of the Pakistan U-19 World Cup squad that is being tipped to carry on the country’s history of fast bowling and could become its newest hero.
On Saturday, Ubaid Shah was the game-changer for Pakistan in a see-saw contest as he registered a brilliant five-wicket haul against Bangladesh in a low-scoring thriller, carrying his side into the semifinals. His match-winning 5/44 took his tally at the U19 World Cup to 17 wickets in five matches at an average of 10.52 and strike rate of 15.52.
The trickling down of cricketing talent in one family, from the region that has battled militancy and terrorism since 9/11, is put rather simply by Naeem.
“Hum pathan hai, hum majboot hai, hum bekhauf hai, bas yahi wajah hai hum fast daalte hai (We are pathans, we are well built, we are not afraid, and that’s the only reason we bowl fast),” Naeem tells The Indian Express from Lahore. “We loved to see fear in batsmen’s eyes. Fast bowling was easy because you don’t have to need many things. Aapko bas ek ball ki jaroorat hai aur fir zor laga ke daalo (You only need a ball and use all your strength to deliver it).”
Naseem paves the way
Naeem is pursuing medicine in Lahore and recollects how difficult it was growing up in Mayar Jandool and why his father Muzaffar Shah used to beat them up for neglecting studies. “My abbu was against playing cricket. He was very strict. Our elder brother Salim Shah was a fantastic wicketkeeper-batsman but he stopped playing after school. The second eldest Zahir Shah, studied Geology in Muzaffarabad. Zahir bhai never had any interest, but the rest four of us were made about cricket,” he says.
“Naseem was mad about cricket. By the time school is over, he already used to have invitations from three or four different teams and you won’t believe he used to play all four of them,” laughs Naeem. “Our elder brothers became our shields. They used to defend us. But in our family cricket was a big no. My father in all his interviews says how he has not spent a single penny on Naseem’s cricketing career. For him cricket is angrezon ka khel (Britisher’s game).”
Naeem played till the club level and later moved to Lahore for studies. He says it was Naseem’s pagalpan, that paved way for Hunain and now Ubaid. “They are more or less of the same age-group. Naseem used to get beaten up a lot by our father for showing the wrong path to Hunain and Ubaid. But he used to say, bhaijan mai Pakistan khelunga (Brother, I will play for Pakistan). It is his junoon (obsession) with the sport that has taken him to his level. He just wanted to prove everyone wrong,” says Naeem.
“When Naseem was picked for the Pakistan team, the road for these two automatically became easy. They never had to look somewhere else for inspiration. They have seen Naseem’s struggle from a very close quarter,” he adds.
The Shah’s moved to Lahore in 2018, when Salim started a gemstone business and it drastically changed their lives.
“Salim bhai started his business and it was because of him we moved to Lahore. Naseem was initially enrolled in Pak Lions Cricket Academy, then he moved to Abdul Qadir Academy,” recalls Naeem. “He never had a proper cricketing kit. The first time Salman Qadir (son of Abdul Qadir) saw him he was wearing a salwar kameez and was bowling with some serious pace. That’s how he caught his attention.”
‘Don’t become lazy after U19’
Once Naseem made it to the Pakistan U-19 team, then Hunain and Ubaid started getting support. While talking about the trio, Naeem reveals although Naseem and Ubaid are quicker but it is Hunain, who worked harder on his bowling. “Naseem and Ubaid are natural but Hunain has worked a lot on his bowling. He was never talented, he has worked harder than the other two. He has worked on his pace as well and it has gone up, which is good to see,” says Naeem.
Naeem recalls a pep talk Naseem gave to Ubaid over the phone, before the youngster took the flight for South Africa for the U-19 World Cup. “It was just one line. Naseem told Ubaid ‘Jo coach bol rahe hai wo karna hai. South Africa mein bowlers ko support milta hai bas line maintain kare (Follow what coaches are saying. South African pitches help fast bowlers and so just bowl in good line),” says Naeem.
Naeem says Naseem has worked a lot on Ubaid and like a strict teacher has given him some mouthfuls as well. “Naseem ki injury ka sabse jyada fayda Ubaid ko mila (Naseem’s injury was a blessing for Ubaid). Naseem has worked tirelessly on Ubaid,” says Naeem.
In a video posted by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) during the Asia Cup U-19 tournament, Naseem Shah pointed out his younger brother’s wayward bowling.
“U-19 is a big learning phase. With the pace also work on your line and length as well. Ubaid takes time to get his rhythm and length, but he will learn the more he plays. If you want to play Test cricket then only pace will not make you effective, you should learn to bowl in good areas. If not you will not be able to succeed,” Naseem said while chatting with Pakistan U-19 pacers Mohammad Zeeshan, Ubaid Shah, and Amir Hassan.
The other advice to all three from Naseem was to not become lazy after U-19. “I have played with cricketers, who were more talented than me but they fizzled out because they became lazy. They never worked on their fitness.”
The three brothers will be playing for Islamabad United in the Pakistan Super League (PSL). “They will play in the PSL together and Inshallah, they will play for Pakistan together in few years. I can’t wait to see Ubaid and Naseem start the proceedings and Hunain coming as first change,” Naeem says.
Naeem credits his elder brothers Salim and Zahir for giving them a good life. “Hum chaaro ki agar achi zindagi ji rahe hai toh unke peeche ye dono bhai hai (If all four of us are living a good life, it is because of my elder brothers),” he says.
Naaem gets emotional while talking about their mother, who passed away a day after Naseem made his Test debut against Australia in Brisbane: “My mother was so happy after she spoke to Naseem from Australia. She was over the moon, next day she was supposed to move to Lahore with all of us. She suffered a cardiac arrest during the journey from Dir to Lahore. A day later, Naseem made his debut. He wanted to come back but we suggested him to stay and play for our mother. How I wish she was here to see them play.”