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Playing county championship will benefit Pakistan players: Shaheen Shah

Afridi opens up on making his Middlesex home debut at Lord's

LONDON: Star pacer 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 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 the eve of Middlesex’s County Championship match against Leicestershire at Lord’s.

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, the world’s most high-profile Twenty20 competition, on political grounds. 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 batter.

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.

“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,” he added.

Debut at Lords

Shaheen Afridi says he will be living a dream when he makes his Middlesex home debut at Lord’s on Thursday. “It’s every cricketer’s dream to come here and play at the home of cricket,” Afridi told reporters at Lord’s.

Afridi has already starred at the ground, taking 6-35 against Bangladesh during a 50-over 2019 World Cup match. “Now I want to take 10 wickets in an innings,” he said with a smile.

“When you play for your country you always feel proud and that came against Bangladesh so it was a good game for me as well. As a youngster, you’re playing in a World Cup game and you take six wickets so yes, it’s a big high for me,” he added.

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 did not play 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.”

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