Shahid Afridi: The inscrutable magician whose ally is inconsistency

Shahid Afridi picked up seven for 12 against West Indies in the first ODI at Guyana on July 14 © AFP

Inconsistency has been Shahid Afridi’s ally for the last 17 years. The ups and downs in his career have taken the sheen off his rare qualities as a sportsperson. But Afridi has the propensity to demolish the sides with bat and ball.Sarang Bhalerao explains the joys of watching Afridi as an entertaining cricketer.
Who would like to define Shahid Afridi? The million dollar question continues to baffle cricket writers, fans and I dare say Afridi himself. One moment he is an underperformer, the next moment he is indispensible. At times he plays shots which force the most erudite of cricket experts to tear their hair in exasperation; at other times his shots have the special ‘Pathan’ force (read brute force) which makes a mockery of the boundary line, and which arouses awe and admiration in equal proportion. But capriciousness has been Afridi’s intrinsic quality; call it his identity if you will.

Seventy six runs off 55 deliveries and seven for 12 at the Providence Stadium, Guyana, against the West Indies on Sunday should be framed and decorated. For the people who question Afridi’s ability, this piece of memorabilia, if you may call it, will make the critics eat a humble pie.

Currently, Misbah-ul-Haq, make no mistake, is Pakistan’s best batsman. He has, at times, waged a lone battle to get Pakistan out from forlorn situations. On Sunday, Misbah, against the West Indies in the slam-bang era of the sport where broader bats have forced many writers to write premature obituaries of bowlers, consumed 121 balls for his 52. The Pakistan captain was an antithesis to Afridi on Sunday. While Misbah was respecting the good balls, Afridi was busy in redefining what a perfectly hittable ball meant. The margin of error against Afridi was almost non-existential. The wicket had demons but Afridi had conquered the inner demons. To decipher the Da Vinci code is easier compared to Afridi.

Just at the start of the year his poor form against South Africa led to his ouster from the team. His batting had the same vengeance but bowling became a benchmark for his survival. The men who replaced him didn’t have his aura, match-winning capability and certainly not the experience. The results, not too surprisingly, were disastrous for Pakistan.

Do you dare to call Afridi a fluke? Was his 37-ball hundred against Sri Lanka in 1996 an innings of class, or a stroke of luck? The innings that led Pakistan to beat Sri Lanka in the World Twenty20 final saw a matured avatar of Afridi. Surely, maturity isn’t a by-product of good fortune. A six-wicket haul against Australia in Dubai was class on display. The detractors are oblivious about the thrills associated with ‘Afridi the classy entertainer.’ He backs his gut instinct. He has all the shots in the book. No boundary is too long for him.

At the Champions Trophy 2013, Pakistan were desperately missing an all-rounder in their ranks. If Shoaib Malik is an all-rounder then the Pakistan selectors need to be sued. If Imran Farhat is the selector’s answer for the option of an all-rounder then they must be asked to seek alternate professions. All this at the expense of Afridi — it is an even bigger crime.

However, Afridi is consistently inconsistent. On Sunday he might have got wickets at will. He might have cleared the boundaries with consummate ease. But the next game might see Afridi infuriating the fans. But hasn’t Afridi been like that for the last 17 years? It is time to have a cola and popcorn watching Afridi play. As Tom Hanks says in the movie Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolate; you never know what you are going to get.” With Afridi you never know what comes next. And that is what makes sport an intriguing prospect: unpredictability.

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)