Pakistan's captain Shahid Afridi plays a shot during the World T20 cricket tournament match between Pakistan and Bangladesh at The Eden Gardens
Nothing beats the romance of watching Shahid Afridi bat AFP
There was turmoil before Pakistan s arrival in India before ICC World T20 2016. Shahid Afridi made a statement that was blown out of proportion, triggering snarky responses from Javed Miandad and a lawsuit. The practice match against Bengal was cancelled. They had lost five limited-overs matches against Bangladesh on a trot before today. When they started their tournament, against Bangladesh, hundreds crossed over from the land of Padma to Kolkata to cheer in the language the city knew. The locals sang the Bangladesh national anthem in unison with the Bangladeshis, for it composed by a man of the city; it was a language they knew. Then they tuned in to the Pakistan anthem. The camera focused on a face that should have looked battle-worn after two decades, but was as boyish as it used to be, two decades back. And Eden Gardens broke in thundering applause to greet Shahid Afridi, cricket s very own Peter Pan. After all these years, all the turmoil, Afridi can still generate that kind of response by merely being Afridi. Many would say Afridi is a better bowler than batsman. I am a self-proclaimed fan of Afridi the bowler. Even today, he got Sabbir Rahman and Tamim Iqbal when both men were looking dangerous. Defending 202, Afridi had 4-0-27-2 against his name. It was a top-notch spell, by any standards. But it could have been bowled by any quality leg-spinner. Or any quality bowler, for that matter. The real Afridi act happened, as the world knows by now, some time before that. Pakistan got off to a confident start. By the time Afridi walked out, Pakistan were 121 for 2 in the 14th over. Pakistan scored 77 during his stay at the crease, from 35 balls. These are outstanding numbers, but not unheard-of. AB de Villiers does these thrice a month. IPL will witness more carnage of this order, from Chris Gayle, Suresh Raina, and goodness-knows-who. Heavy bats have changed cricket forever. Whether the change has been good for cricket is debatable, but they have tilted the sport in batsmen s favour. A photograph of Barry Richards comparing his and David Warner s bats became viral on the internet this Australian summer. Big, huge, humongous hits are not rare anymore. They do not count sixes anymore: sixes have become so common that they measure the distance sixes have travelled. There will be a day, in future, when sixes will outnumber fours, and will certainly outnumber twos, for neither twos nor fours are as profitable as sixes. Gayle, Raina, de Villiers, Brendon McCullum, and their gang have changed the concept of big-hitting and batsmanship over time. They have made six-hitting fashionable. It is just that Afridi had made six-hitting popular two decades back, that too without wielding sledgehammers. By the time England got that concept called T20 cricket into being, Afridi had already become Afridi. The man they thought was 17 was already smashing 17-ball fifties. He did not have super-bats. He had super-shoulders, super-biceps, and super-forearms. If brute force still eluded him, his right leg went up in the air (how on earth does one achieve that?) to make sure he could give his all. In other words, Afridi used to do with bare hands what they are doing with advanced weapons these days. Why do we love sport? Psychologists have often said that it is a trait that we have inherited over time, from the time when our forefathers used to hunt. Sport is an advanced, refined form of hunting. Indeed, sport has been handed down to us from an era when there was no strategy, no artistry, no attrition, no gymnasiums, no pep-talks, no central contracts: sport used to be fun. It is that version of sport that Afridi endorses. It does not matter what sport it is. Had he played football he might have attempted to score a goal immediately after kick-off. Had he played chess he might have tried the Danish Gambit every time. There is no complication in the Afridi brand of cricket. There is no Machiavellian scheme. Brand Afridi is all about unadulterated joy, for every stroke is uncomplicated and brutal, primitive and primal, and nostalgic not only to me, not only to cricket but to Man. He may not win the World T20. Or he may. It will not matter, for World-T20-winning captains, the MS Dhonis and Lasith Malingas and Darren Sammys, there have been many of them. There is, and will be, only one Shahid Afridi. You may laugh at him. You may ridicule him or his age. But when he walks out to bat, and you are in a room with a television, you cannot help but push his partner off strike so that you can watch him bat. You will laugh at him if he gets out, but you cannot help watch him bat. If you do not have access to live telecast, somewhere, at the back of your mind, you will have an urge to look frantically for streaming, live or illegal, on your handheld device. That is what Afridi does to you. And unlike the modern practitioners, he does it in the 20th year of his career, as captain. Some things are not supposed to change. (Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)