The curious case of Shahid “Benjamin Button” Afridi
Shahid Afridi’s role as the cherished enfant terrible of cricket remains unchallenged © Getty Images
His dashing, angelic looks make him more of a Dorian Gray, but in truth it’s hard not to think of Shahid Afridi as the Benjamin Button of One-day International (ODI) batting, given the splendour with which he began his career and the hair-pulling frustration that some of his recent immature knocks have produced.
Wednesday’s stump-splaying dismissal to James Anderson was yet another piece of reckless self and team immolation that fans of both Pakistan and Hampshire have become increasingly familiar with over the past year or so. Just how boring can batting for your nation be that a 31-year old man gets twitchy so easily?
No one can doubt Afridi isn’t still deserving of his famous nickname, but it has become increasingly open to rather less flattering interpretation: BOOM! Get the front foot out of the way. BOOM! Get the bat out of the way with a medieval hoick. What follows is usually a rattling sound, then a slightly sheepish look, but rarely any admonishments from team mates or coaching staff. This is odd considering the abrogation of responsibility for such an experienced player, but in all seriousness, who’s to say this turning a blind eye isn’t just another part of Misbah-ul-Haq’s man-management genius?
In recent years Afridi has tended to bat down the order and we might suggest that scores between 20 and 40 are the ones which are so vital for a player in that position looking to finish an innings. If you look at the slightly rudimentary chart below, you can see from the white gaps for that range in the final third of Afridi’s career just how much his scoring has tailed off in this regard. We must take into account the pressure of chasing or even setting a target, of course, along with the difficulties posed by an older ball and likely more defensive field settings regardless of power play factors, but in the last five years when coming in between six and eight, Afridi has also only finished not out on eight occasions in the 61 innings he’s batted. In fact, he’s only been not out when batting 6-8 on one occasion since late 2009. That’s a long way from Michael Bevan.
The other element which tends to magnify Afridi’s current lack of patience is that his successor as skipper, the Brearley of the Emirates, has built the team’s present success on very much keep calm and carry on basis where Ajmalesque individualism is allowed to prosper but Azhar Ali’s brand of resolute, dogged obstinacy is equally vaunted. It’s hard to imagine Ali producing that sort of Third Test innings under an Afridi captaincy. I know I’m swinging across formats like Afridi does the line, but I think the point holds.
His hair. The star celebrations. The mesmeric late dippers. Even, despite the above, on rare occasions his batting. All these mean Afridi’s role as the cherished enfant terrible of cricket remains unchallenged, but given how little we actually get to see of him out in the middle with some willow in his hands, wouldn’t it be lovely if, in this regard, he just grew up a bit?
(James Marsh is a TEFL teacher based in the Czech Republic, although his real occupation is alienating those close to him by wallowing on statsguru. He blogs on cricket at Pavilion Opinions and can be found on Twitter at @PavilionOpinion)