PETER OBORNE - Astonishing teenagers are a recurring theme in Pakistan's cricket history. Of the 33 players recorded as making their Test debut before the age of 18, 15 are Pakistanis. For nearly 40 years the list was headed by Mushtaq Mohammad, at 15 years 124 days in the third Test at Lahore against West Indies in 1958-59.
Hasan Raza displaced him in 1996-97, when he appeared against Zimbabwe at Faisalabad at the declared age of 14 years 227 days. However, within weeks of his debut Majid Khan, the PCB chief executive, ordered him to submit to forensic bone age tests, alongside the current members of Pakistan's Under-15 and Under-19 squads. The tests (which were carried out at the hospital created by Imran Khan in memory of his mother) disqualified a number of over-age members of the squads.
These did not include Hasan Raza but his age was reassessed at "around 15". However, the Board's own website continues to show his birthday as March 11 1982 (consistent with a Test debut at 14), as do many other sets of statistics. Other sensational debuts include Shahid Afridi, who blasted his record-breaking ODI century in 37 balls against Sri Lanka at the alleged age of 16 years 217 days. Aaqib Javed made his Test debut at the alleged age of 16 years 189 days, but this entails believing that he made his first-class debut for Lahore Division against Faisalabad – as an opening bowler – aged 12 years 76 days.
That would have left him just three days older than the official record-holder for the youngest first-class debutant – Pakistan's Test opening batsman Alimuddin. He appeared for Rajasthan in the pre-partition Indian Ranji Trophy allegedly aged 12 years 73 days. There is a simple reason behind the uncertainty over the ages of Pakistan's cricket prodigies. The British left many worthwhile legacies to the Indian subcontinent, but these did not include an effective system of birth registrations. Pakistan's problem is shared with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, who between them supply another 13 of the 33 players recorded as Test debutants before 18.
Independent Pakistan has not rectified the problem. In 2011 a Unicef report found that only 27 per cent of all births in Pakistan had been registered between 2000 and 2009. The Islamic faith offers no equivalent of baptismal certificates (which can provide a marker of age in Christian societies), and the ages of cricketers, and indeed other Pakistanis, are frequently established some years after birth, from other official papers, particularly school records, or by personal or family declaration.
Pakistan's cricketers have multiple motives to make themselves appear younger than their true ages, particularly since Under-19 cricket, and latterly Under-16 cricket, have become such important passageways to senior recognition. And in the later stages of their careers, losing a few years helps senior players keep a place in the Pakistan team or win a contract overseas.
The writer is the Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator.