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Shahid Afridi has been subjected to unfair criticism by Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Yousuf

Shahid Afridi major role in our first T20 World Cup triumph in 2009 © Getty Images
Shahid Afridi played a major role in Pakistan’ first T20 World Cup triumph in 2009 © Getty Images

 

By Salman Zafar

 

In the last couple of weeks, that the war of words between Shahid Afridi with two of his former team-mates, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Yousuf, have left a bad taste in the mouth.

 

What’s surprising is that the number of fingers pointed at Afridi outnumbered the ones pointed at Akhtar and Yousuf. Not only does that show the fickle nature of a Pakistani supporter, it also goes to show the level of hypocrisy prevailing in Pakistan.

 

It was July 2013, when Afridi ended up with figures of seven wickets for 12 runs in the One-Day International (ODI) series against the West Indies that every cricket fan in the country was swooning over how good he was. Fast forward a couple of months and the same fans are now cursing him.

 

Why?

 

Is it because he shot back at the three pseudo analysts appearing on our TV screen?

 

The first one is Akhtar, whose penchant for controversy overshadowed his cricketing abilities throughout his career. Next up is Yousuf, who is still bitter about the way the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) treated him and is reaching Amir Sohail-esque levels of bearing grudges.

 

Last but not least, you have Sikander Bakht, whose contribution to Pakistan cricket is laughable. Criticising poor performances is fair and justifiable, but criticism coming from people who do not have a rational bone in their body, is infuriating.

 

For one, sitting in the comfort of your TV talk shows’ set is a very easy place to launch criticism. Afridi is right when he said, “The way some of these experts behave and act is as if the team never lost in their time.”

 

While losing is never easy and you eventually need to face the music, singling out one player is a shame. Afridi, for all the criticism thrown at him, did a reasonably good job with the ball against South Africa. Yes, for the millionth time, he’s a specialist bowler, not a batsman. What he brings as a batsman is only a bonus; nothing more and nothing less.

 

Pakistan’s performance against South Africa in the United Arab Emirate (UAE), included players who deserved a much greater flack. Mohammad Hafeez for example, has been nothing short of woeful, of late. Why don’t we see the pseudo cricket analysts on TV or talk shows when it comes to him?
What about Nasir Jamshed? He’s been out of form for ages, or even the regularly careless, Umar Akmal?

 

No one has slammed them or called for their heads.

 

Afridi probably makes for a very easy target and opinions on him will always vary in the extreme. People will either adore him or detest him. It is true that he hasn’t been at his best recently, but he has hardly been as bad as his performances are made out to be.

 

Any normal player would be infuriated when he has to face undue criticism. Even Misbahul Haq agreed with Afridi’s stance on matters, not explicitly perhaps, when it comes to the recent criticism towards the team. Floating around outlandish suggestions of retirement every time the team underperforms is ridiculous.

 

We have been watching, supporting and playing cricket for decades, yet we have never been able to measure our emotions with rational thinking. We will praise the same players to no bounds when they play well and call for their heads every time they come home with a loss.

 

Yousuf and Shoaib were fantastic players on the pitch, but their analysis towards the team reeks of personal vendetta more than anything else. Having played cricket for so long, they themselves know the pressures of playing on a losing side and they know how hard it is to handle the pressure in a cricket-crazy nation that smells blood after every defeat.

 

Facing the fickle supporters and Pakistan’s vulture press is already a hard task, the last thing the current players need is former players coming up and demanding retirements and sackings. This is the same team that lost resoundingly to South Africa in UAE and then turned the tables in the very next series with a series win.

 

Afridi may not be a legend, but his contribution to our limited-overs team has been significant. He was the man who led Pakistan to their best World Cup outing in 12 years and played a major role in our first Twenty20 (T20) World Cup triumph in 2009.

 

He has produced some very memorable performances with the ball during his career and has even managed to pull off the occasional blinder with the bat. He remains as the only player in ODI history who took a five wicket haul and scored 50 runs three times.

 

While his form has seen a dip lately when compared to his heydays, he isn’t ready to give up anytime soon. In all probability, he is going to be around till the 2015 World Cup and will play an integral role in our ODI and T20 sides, a fact highlighted by his ‘Man of the Match’ performance versus Sri Lanka less than 24 hours ago.

 

More recently, all-rounder Afridi starred in Pakistan’s exciting three-wicket win over Sri Lanka in the first Twenty20 International at Dubai Stadium. In all, Afridi hit three sixes and two boundaries to help Pakistan overcome a tough challenge from world No 1, Sri Lanka, who had taken the match to the final over with Pakistan needing six runs.

 

This is the same Afridi who was being slammed left, right and centre, and the same player whose cricket obituary gets written every now and then. The reaction towards his latest performance was typical of our cricket following public and the pseudo analysts — nothing but acclaim for Afridi. However, the very same people will start sharpening their knives should he have a dry spell in the next few matches, which is most ironic part — heroes one day, villains the very next!

 

Criticism is fine, but undue criticism is uncalled for.

 

(Salman Zafar is a cricket buff, Beatles enthusiast and aspiring movie maker from Canada. His Twitter handle is @salmanzafar1985)

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