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Shahid Afridi: The enigma of Pakistan cricket

Shahid Afridi © AFP
Shahid Afridi propelled Pakistan into the final of the Asia Cup 2014 tournament with his two scintillating knocks © AFP

After Shahid Afridi conjured a match-winning knock during Pakistan’s thrilling three-wicket win over Bangladesh in Asia Cup 2014, Vineet Varma wonders as to whether the mercurial batsman has finally come of age in his chequered career, or will it turn out to be another one of those false dawns that has been the hallmark with unerring regularity, for the maverick over the years. Here is a look at one of the finest batsmen Pakistan has produced over the years, who sadly has not lived up to his potential as was expected.

‘Boom Boom’ is the word used for Shahid Afridi and his brand of batting. The funny part about the 34-year-old all-rounder is that people still consider him as that brash and fearless youth who could put the world’s finest bowling line-up to sword on his day. It was way back in 1996-97 that Afridi has smashed the Sri Lankan bowlers all over the park in Nairobi to score what was then the fastest hundred by a player in One-Day International (ODI) cricket. The savageness with which Afridi had dispatched the Sri Lankan bowling led by Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, had led fans to believe that a new star was born for Pakistan, who could champion their cause in the batting department.

The amazing part about that freakish innings was that Afridi had scored a total of 11 sixes and six fours in that innings and that kind of hitting was unseen of for during that era of ODI cricket. Fast forward to 2014, and it was Bangladesh who were the opponents for Afridi’s side in Asia Cup 2014 as Pakistan were chasing a mammoth 327-run target at Mirpur.

Afridi walked in with the score at 225 for five; the required run-rate that time was in excess of 10. But Afridi unleashed himself as he carted the Bangladeshi bowlers all around the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, slamming seven sixes and two fours in a 25-ball 59, thus turning the tie on its head. Though Afridi later departed with the score at 294, he had already made sure that Pakistan were back in the game , thus playing a crucial role in Pakistan’s historic win against Bangladesh that night.

Afridi has been in splendid form in this Asia Cup. But before the tournament,  he had a terrible run before the tournament began and there were questions on his future. Looking back at what Afridi did in the last two matches — against India and Bangladesh, one wonders why he has not been able to replicate the form with unerring regularity for Pakistan over the years?

The answer may lie with his temperament as Afridi is a player who is devoid of patience and has no time to score valuable ones and twos, which are so necessary if you are to survive for a long period at the crease and construct an innings. Afridi has an eye for only clearing the ball to the boundary which though may help Pakistan clinch the close thrillers.  But these do not come in use if a long and patient knock is required of him in say a Test match.

Afridi has so far played 377 ODI matches for Pakistan but only has scored 7,619 runs at an average of 23.44, figures which seriously undermine his talent. Surprisingly, his record in Test matches is a bit richer as he has played 27 games and scored 1,716 runs at an average of 37.51, which underlines the fact that Afridi does have the ability to play a long knock if he applies himself properly at the crease.

Apart from his batting, Afridi’ famous short-temperedness has also led him to get in trouble on many occasions, such as the infamous incident in Faisalabad against England in 2005, when he tried to scruff up the wicket and was promptly banned for one Test and two ODIs.  Another one of his on-field incidents was during the tour to Australia in 2010 when he was suspended chomping on the ball during an ODI at Perth and was banned for two matches. Afridi later claimed that he only tried to ‘smell’ the ball and warranted that the ban against him was uncalled for.

Putting his controversies aside, now though it may be too late for Afridi to aim for sky-high batting records set up by some of his contemporaries, he can at least mellow down his temperament a bit and help Pakistan win close matches. Apart from his batting Afridi has also come of age in terms of his bowling which has seen him consume a huge 378 wickets in ODIs and has also highlighted his ability as a utility all-rounder for Pakistan.

It will not be a surprise if going by current form, Afridi guides Pakistan to the Asia Cup 2014 title and who knows, even the ICC World Cup 2015 to be held in Australia and New Zealand next year

(Vineet Varma is a writer at Cricket Country. He can be followed @Vinfire19)

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