Returning Shaheen Shah Afridi is dreaming about his 100th Test wicket

Shaheen Shah Afridi is “excited” to make his long-awaited Test comeback after missing a year of red-ball cricket. He is set to play Pakistan’s first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle on July 16 and it was at this venue exactly 12 months ago he suffered a troublesome ligament injury in his right knee.
Afridi took three months to recover and made a comeback in the T20 World Cup in October in Australia before being sidelined again as he aggravated the same injury. He missed the entire home series against England and New Zealand but made a successful return in January 2023, when he led Lahore Qalandars to the Pakistan Super League (PSL) title. In all this time, he has not played a competitive game with the red ball.”

“I am very excited to be making my Test comeback in the country where I was injured,” Afridi was quoted on the PCB website. “Injuries are part of an athlete’s life, but it is good to be back. I enjoy red-ball cricket a lot, and I am one wicket away from a century of Test wickets, which would be a big achievement for me.

“It seems like yesterday when I was injured. I will be making my Test return at the same ground where I was injured. I was talking to our physiotherapist about it. It is a matter of pride to represent Pakistan in any format, and I enjoy playing for Pakistan. I hope we will have a good beginning to this cycle of the World Test Championship (WTC), and we will qualify for the final, something we have missed in the last two iterations.”

In his last Test before injury, Afridi took 4 for 58 to bowl Sri Lanka out for 222 in the first innings. But he bowled just seven (of 100) overs in the second innings. He left the field after appearing to be in discomfort on day three. He is now on 99 wickets from 25 Tests.

His return to international cricket hasn’t been easy. Despite being injured and being advised rest for six weeks, Afridi ended up on tour with the rest of the Pakistan team to the Netherlands and later Dubai for the Asia Cup. The rehab didn’t work. His injury got worse and only then did the PCB decide he needed specialist care and flew him to London.

Since returning to white-ball cricket in October last year, he has featured in only 16 international matches so far – less than a third of Pakistan’s total matches since July last year.

Playing in the T20 Blast this summer in the UK, he finished as Nottinghamshire’s highest-wicket-taker with 22 strikes in 14 games at an economy rate of 8.4. There was also a possibility that he might play a few four-day games for the county, but it didn’t materialise.

“It takes time to get used to red-ball cricket after playing with white ball,” Afridi said. “But the Karachi camp proved beneficial for me. Test cricket demands patience, and you have to work in partnerships with fellow bowlers. Over the last year, I have played more white-ball matches, but when I was playing in the United Kingdom, I bowled extra overs after matches – even with the red ball – to meet the desired workload.

Afridi couldn’t help but look back over how long he has been waiting for his 100th Test wicket. “I was only one wicket away, and the new ball was about to be available [in the Test against Sri Lanka last year]. I was planning to utilise the new ball to reach that milestone, but I got injured before we got the new ball. So, I have had to wait a lot. It is very tough to be away from cricket, but time has helped me learn a lot, which will help me perform well for Pakistan across formats.”

There was some talk during Pakistan’s home season in 2023 that Afridi had lost a little bit of his pace post his comeback, but he isn’t fussed. “Speed doesn’t matter as much but if there has been a dip, it will improve with time,” Afridi had said in May.

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