A letter to Naseem Shah

One thing to remember if you want a long career - you're on your own now Getty Images

Dear Naseem,

I'll start with an apology. This is a letter. Nobody does those anymore. It's not even a real letter with a postage stamp that you could start a collection with (it used to be a thing).

Second, my condolences on your recent loss. No advice fits these matters. We make our own advice, applicable only for ourselves. Grief happens to you and, to compound matters in your case, it's been a public affair. But then one quiet day, if you're lucky, it doesn't happen and you realise that it hasn't happened for a few days. For others it never goes but becomes a less significant part of the day.

Third, congratulations on the fine start to your career. The drama of that debut no-ball, the five-fer in Karachi and now this, a hat-trick in front of a packed home crowd - there are players who have seen less action in entire careers than you have in four Tests and barely three months.

And finally, well, this isn't advice. Gleanings, that's better; gleanings from years of watching Pakistan cricket and how corrosive it can be for Pakistan's cricketers. Take it whichever way you see fit, but it's not advice.

To be the next big thing in Pakistan cricket, as you're probably beginning to realise, is an amazing place to be in. To be the next big thing in Pakistan cricket, as you will come to understand, is also the loneliest place to be in.

Be under no illusions about this. You'll never be physically alone. People will permanently hover in your space, some bearing promises and gifts, some wanting a piece of you, some wanting to just be with you, some wanting to be you. Little economies will blossom around you, not operating on conventional economic wisdoms but operating with you as the currency, and there'll come a day where you won't even know who certain people around you are and why you are, essentially, paying for their life.

You'll never be as popular as you're going to be for a while now but remember this if you want a long career - you're on your own now. You will have to do it by yourself. You will have to do it by basing yourself in permanent opposition to the environment you're in, like you're carving your face into a mountain. If all goes well, 20 years from now you'll feel like you've come home from war.

See, on the tin it says that everything is geared towards making you better, to making sure you're the best you that you can be. But this is the PCB and, last I checked, no matter how fancy the people they hire or high-tech the academies they make, they are still the PCB. They waste players like we're wasting the environment.

Instead, people will point you towards "role models", maybe a once-great pacer.

One, there's not as many of those as you think. And two, following from that, it will help if you see them for what they really are: cautionary tales of what happens to most next big things when they get older. Most of them you don't want to emulate.

"Remind yourself that though fast bowlers put their bodies on the line like nobody else in cricket, it doesn't mean they should be as expendable as Pakistan takes them to be"

Ex-players, some even with decent intentions, will come at you with all kinds of advice. Be really careful how you negotiate this. Spurned ex-players are incredibly dark, malevolent forces who, in Pakistan particularly, weigh down heavier on your soul than they should. There's one, who, if he spends any time with you, will definitely tell you your action needs working on. No names but he also debuted as a 16-year-old, has an international hat-trick and is a World Cup winner. Once when they came across him, he suggested some tweaks to the actions of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. Imagine. The kind of guy who'll argue that water might be better if it tasted a little more like this.

Trust yourself here, trust yourself hard.

As an aside, that action is something. Fast bowling actions are more derivative than we sometimes realise and I swear - as Rashid Latif also saw - I see both Richard Hadlee and Shane Bond in yours. I'm no biomechanist (if you come across a good one, it's a wise move to pay attention) but what struck me most about the action is how ready it is. The careful measure of that run-up, the tight coil and narrowed alignment - of shoulder, hip, knee and ankle - at the crease, and then the follow-through, like you really mean it. That follow-through might get you in a batsman's private space and so into the ICC's bad behaviour books. Don't worry. Bureaucracy is one opponent you can't ever beat.

Everything about the action looks as if it has been honed over years, irregularities chipped out in academies, wrinkles ironed out on tour and under the eyes of a thousand coaches and cameras. But that's not possible because you're too young and raw. This must just be how your action has always been, as ready and beautiful as a butterfly at birth.

Seeing as how you went off right after the hat-trick, a word about injuries too. You've already had a back injury. There was a knee niggle in Australia. And now this in Pindi. Injuries aren't the issue as such. Bound to happen.

But - and this will be difficult - don't trust the PCB's medical department. I'm not sure how you're going to get around this, but that department is a black hole. You go in and either you don't come out, or you do come out but are old and washed up. If you don't believe me, look at the number of players who have picked up injuries that would be considered fairly run of the mill around the world but in Pakistan end up derailing - or nearly derailing - careers. Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Haris Sohail, Azhar Ali, Umar Amin, Mohammad Hafeez; what has happened to Rumman Raees and what might happen to Hasan Ali?

If you don't believe me, ask your team-mates, those who seek out a sports doctor in the UK, one who works with elite Premier League football clubs. It's a little awkward all round. Ask them, they'll tell you. Try not to get injured, I guess. Or hope the PCB finds better doctors.

Remind yourself that though fast bowlers put their bodies on the line like nobody else in cricket, it doesn't mean they should be as expendable as Pakistan takes them to be. Look at Pat Cummins. Jimmy Anderson now has 150 Tests. Ishant Sharma has nearly a hundred. It is possible, no matter what they tell you (one of them told Amir his career was over, in 2007, after his back stress fractures).

That's pretty much it. It's a lonely place, but don't be a recluse. There are good people. Your coach is one, even if he's wearing too many hats. Mohammad Abbas looks like a decent sort. Smart too, plus he has recent experience of being burnt by the employer. I'm not sure about Azhar Ali as captain but he is a decent man and you'll need one or two of those.

All best,

PS: Sorry for the downer so soon after the hat-trick that you - we all - are still buzzing off.

PPS: Avoid dodgy agents. And drugs. Obviously.

PPPS: Remember whenever you can why you started playing this game in the first place.