When Shaheen Shah Afridi made his return to Test cricket for Pakistan after a year-long absence due to a knee injury, he immediately showed his prowess as a fast bowler. Opening the bowling against Sri Lanka Cricket Board XI at Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, Afridi exhibited searing pace, lethal swing, and impeccable lengths, resulting in three wickets for 36 runs in 12 overs, including three maidens, as Pakistan dismissed the opposition for 196 in the first innings before tea. On the final day, he continued his impressive performance with figures of 4-2-2-1, restricting the hosts to 88 for four. Pakistan had set a target of 342 runs, supported by half-centuries from Shan Masood, Babar Azam, and Saud Shakeel.

Expressing his excitement about his Test comeback in the country where he sustained his injury, Afridi spoke to PCB Digital in Hambantota, saying, “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.”

Due to the nature of his injury, Afridi’s return to the Test team required a gradual and systematic approach. Since his unfortunate landing at the boundary during the fourth morning of the Test in Galle, he had not played a first-class match. However, he made his international return during the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia in October of the previous year. Unfortunately, he twisted his knee in the final, causing him to miss the home series against England and New Zealand. Afridi eventually made his comeback earlier this year, representing Lahore Qalandars in the HBL Pakistan Super League, where they successfully defended their title. He then featured in the limited-overs series against New Zealand in April.

Before being selected for the two Test matches, which mark Pakistan’s first matches in the third cycle of the ICC World Test Championship, Afridi played for Nottinghamshire. He ensured that he met the required workload levels to regain his rhythm.

“It takes time to adjust to red-ball cricket after playing white-ball,” Afridi acknowledged. He further added, “But the Karachi camp proved beneficial for me. Test cricket demands patience, and you have to work in partnership with fellow bowlers. Although I have played more white-ball matches over the last year, while I was playing in the United Kingdom, I bowled extra overs after matches, even with the red ball, to meet the desired workload.”

Reflecting on his injury and subsequent recovery, Afridi mentioned, “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 and qualify for the final, something we missed out on in the last two iterations.”

Adding to the excitement of Afridi’s return is the imminent milestone of reaching 100 Test wickets, making him the 11th Pakistani pace bowler to achieve this feat. Afridi expressed his enthusiasm, saying, “There is a lot of excitement for that 100th wicket.”

However, the journey to this milestone has not been without challenges. Afridi recalled the first Test in Galle 12 months ago, where he fell just one wicket short of the century mark. “I was planning to utilize the new ball to reach that milestone, but I got injured before we could get 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 assist me in performing well for Pakistan across formats.”

Afridi’s impressive record of 99 wickets in just 25 matches at an average of 24.86 is complemented by four five-wicket hauls and one 10-for in a match. During his rehabilitation, he also focused on strengthening his batting skills, as demonstrated by his quickfire 44 not out off just 15 balls in the HBL PSL 8 final, which played a pivotal role in Lahore Qalandars’ thrilling victory over Multan Sultans. He showcased his batting prowess on the international stage as well, smashing New Zealand’s Blair Tickner for 22 runs, including three sixes and a four, in the last over of the fourth One-Day International in Karachi, propelling Pakistan to a total of 334.

While Afridi humbly acknowledged that he is primarily a bowler, he expressed his willingness to make an impact with the bat whenever given the opportunity to do so for his country.

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