Sixteen-year-old Naseem Shah's participation in the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa early next year is not certain yet, with the senior team management not in favour of releasing him for age-group cricket. The junior team management, understandably, wants the star fast bowler freed up for the World Cup, as originally planned.
ESPNcricinfo understands that the Under-19 team is waiting for Shah, who was named in the World Cup squad on December 6 after making his Test debut in Australia last month, to link up with his team-mates, who have been at a preparatory camp in Lahore since November 25.
The issue at the moment is the senior team's next assignment: a multi-format home series against Bangladesh, which is far from confirmed yet given the visiting team's stated unwillingness to play Test cricket in Pakistan. If the Test matches - the only format Shah has played so far at the international level - do take place, they must be in early February. The last T20I against Bangladesh is scheduled for January 27, and the PSL begins in the third week of February. The Under-19 World Cup, meanwhile, runs from January 17 to February 10.
If it's not Tests and only T20I against Bangladesh, then I think they [the senior team] have plenty of options to pick from and can easily release Naseem
Ijaz Ahmed, Pakistan Under-19 head coach
"I don't mind if they play him against Bangladesh in Tests, but if the series isn't happening, then I would very much want Naseem in the squad for the World Cup," Ijaz Ahmed, head coach of the Under-19 team, said. "He is important not just because he played Test cricket, but he was always the first-choice bowler for us in the World Cup. He was named in the squad and even the PCB chairman had given a clearance on his name. Having him in the squad will give our squad a major boost and the hype having him around us will give other boys a motivation.
"I had requested Misbah [ul-Haq to release him if he is not playing the Tests against Bangladesh] and he, too, understands the importance of the World Cup and we are in discussion to sort this out once and for all. But if this isn't go according to the plan, then we have reserve players on the bench who are with us from the last 25 days and very much part of our preparations. So I do have a plan B, but if it's not Tests and only T20I against Bangladesh, then I think they [the senior team] have plenty of options to pick from and can easily release Naseem."
Pakistan, like the other teams, can make changes to their squad till January 10 without worrying about an ICC approval. After that, players can be replaced only on fitness grounds and will require the approval of the ICC's event technical committee.
As far as workload management is concerned, the senior team management had charted a course for Shah's holistic development much before his international debut. To that end, he has been asked to skip the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, where his side, Central Punjab, take on Northern from December 27 in Karachi. He is firmly in Pakistan's plans for the England tour next year, too.
Shah's rise through the ranks has had its share of ups and downs. On Test debut, he dismissed Australia opener David Warner for 154 but was dropped in the next Test because of a niggle in his knee, which is understood to have hindered his rhythm in the nets.
The teenager, however, emerged as an automatic selection for the home series against Sri Lanka that followed, taking seven wickets in the two Tests, including a second-innings five-for in the second game. The earned him the distinction of being the second-youngest bowler - behind compatriot Nasim-ul-Ghani in 1958 - to take a five-wicket haul in the longest format as Pakistan completed a 1-0 series victory.
Shah's Test debut in Australia was largely an experiment, with him having played only seven first-class matches prior. He had created quite a buzz even before landing in Australia, with footage of his express pace from the domestic circuit going viral. He was named in the starting XI in the tour game against Australia A, too, but didn't bowl in the first innings following the death of his mother. He, however, made quite an impression with an eight-over burst in the second innings, picking up the wicket of Marcus Harris.