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Feature

Gen Z boys Naseem and Green bring back '90s memories

One took four wickets, the other made 79 - but the contest between the two was the highlight of the day

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
22-Mar-2022
Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah claimed four wickets apiece, Pakistan vs Australia, 3rd Test, Lahore, 2nd day, March 22, 2022

Shaheen and Naseem claimed four wickets apiece  •  AFP/Getty Images

If you're a cricket fan who grew up in the '90s, you have a certain view of the kind of cricket fan you are. You think you're hip, fairly progressive, and young, unlike those who can't seem to stop going on about how cricket used to be back in their day. Until you watch Naseem Shah bowl to Cameron Green on day two in Lahore.
They are 19 and 22 respectively, part of the generation that will probably look upon the fan of the '90s with the same benign condescension you probably reserved for the one that came before. But it's perhaps why this particular match-up feels right up your alley. There's Pakistani pace, Australian resistance, and above all, outrageous reverse swing. All the signs of Green's nascent career suggest he could be a fixture in Australia's middle order for several years, and Pakistan have found out why over this series. While across the first two Tests, the lasting impression he left came with the ball, here, unbeaten on 79 and having dragged Australia out of a slightly sticky situation overnight, he has shown that his batting is equally prodigious.
But after a morning of what felt like aimless meandering for Pakistan, Babar Azam, of course, turned to Naseem with the old ball. The first ball to Green, whose technique had looked inviolable all morning, snaked in sharply off a length, looking to hone in on off stump like a guided missile. Green hunched his 1.98m frame just in time to keep it out, a thick inside edge saving him.
Green had his wake-up call, and while Naseem repeated the feat with his next three deliveries, it was time for the Western Australian to demonstrate his defensive solidity. Perfect head position, proactive footwork, assured blocks. So Naseem went again, this time pushing his length ever so slightly forward. It forced Green forward, and the banana inswing he was generating by now zipped through the tiny gap Naseem had drawn with the forensic precision of a key into a lock. That off stump could be shielded no longer.
"The pitch was slow and the ball wasn't quite pinging off the surface," Naseem said after the day's play. "But when you put effort into it, you managed to get reverse.
"My plan was to keep things tight and keep bowling in the right areas. I've worked on bowling with the old ball. When you bowl with the old ball, your line and length gets corrected and your speed doesn't dip. It's given me the opportunity to reverse swing the ball. It's a very difficult skill because you have to grip the ball a certain way. So much so that it gave me problems with my run-up initially.
"It gives me a lot of joy to perform with Shaheen [Shah Afridi]. We played together against Bangladesh in Pindi and then Sri Lanka in Karachi. It was a good combination, and we combined to take four each here, too."
Shaheen, who like Naseem, would finish with four wickets for the innings, said the bowlers were looking to the 19-year old as an example for how to bowl with the ageing ball. Shaheen, among the best new-ball bowlers in the world, is still coming to grips with handling a ball once the shine wears off, which has happened especially quickly this series. That has meant the ball reversing sometimes as early as the 20th over, expanding Naseem's importance to a side he suddenly looks an irreplaceable part of, particularly while Hasan Ali works on regaining his form and confidence.
"We bowled well as a unit," Shaheen said. "If you bowl in the right areas, you can get wickets. There isn't much help with the new ball, but if you can reverse the ball well, you can get results, and the way Naseem bowled deserves a lot of credit. He's improved his game a lot and he's promising for Pakistan cricket's future. We all hope to bowl as well as Naseem did this innings."
But perhaps the most satisfying doff of the cap came from the man Naseem had bested in that enthralling, five-ball duel. Green looked completely untroubled by every other bowler Pakistan deployed against him, having seemingly put his side on course for a secure first-innings total. While 391 might still have put Australia out of danger - they have never lost a Test against Pakistan after posting as many in the first innings - Naseem ensured Australia couldn't quite pull away. Green called his action "perfect for these conditions" and lauded his consistency.
"He bowled really well all day," Green said. "He was getting the ball to reverse pretty largely both ways. Unfortunately, just lack of concentration when you've been batting out there for a while. I thought I saw the ball go away from me, but it came back in. That's kind of what you face over here. He bowled beautifully. Obviously, his action is perfect for these conditions. When it's not bouncing much you just keep attacking the pegs and he was so consistent. Credit to him."
It was a day when proceedings developed a touch stodgily, bar that little spell triggered by Naseem's wonder over to Australia's boy wonder. Bails flew, and a young Pakistani bowler with luxuriant hair reeled away in celebration as an opposition lower order was skittled out. The man born in 2003 had made it feel like it was the '90s all over again.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000