From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.24 :: Jun. 16, 2011
His handshake was as power-packed as his shots. It is said that Shahid Afridi, with his more than a firm handshake, could leave you with a hair-line fracture. A wave of acknowledgement from him would be less dangerous. But the way he waved his bat was devastating indeed. Ask the bowlers, who are now celebrating his retirement.
The Pakistan batsman, a lovable maverick, was one of a kind that makes cricket such an enjoyable game, to play and follow. “I believe in playing on my terms,” he had once told this correspondent. Afridi never shed his trusted path. He believed that the ball was meant to be hit and the bowler to be dominated. That he did both with a distinct style in a career spanning 15 years speaks for the popularity and utility of this exciting cricketer from Karachi.
Afridi would not have been Afridi had he not courted controversy every now and then. For a captain, it was always a challenge to keep him under control, for Afridi would pursue unconventional methods to achieve his goals. There were times when he would cross the limit, but then he played cricket on his terms. From a new ball bowler to a leg -spinner to making a mark as a hard-hitting batsman, Afridi surely went a long way.
He was, to a traditionalist, crass. For the opponents he was mean. He revelled in making the opposition squirm with his aggressive approach. He would despatch even a good delivery into the stands. He relished it and also made it a point to make his joy known to the opposition.
Afridi's gestures and behaviour were meant to whip up his own passion to serve his team. His team-mates knew it well. Not the opponents. Often they fell into the trap. His 37-ball ODI century in 1996 in Nairobi, still the fastest ever, prompted West Indies great Michael Holding to comment at a later stage, “Cricket is not cricket without Shahid Afridi.”
World cricket needs characters like Afridi. “He is different. He loves to contest and does not fear failures,” was a comment from Wasim Akram that summed up the rare cricketer that Afridi is. He is rare because he is not afraid of failure. Nothing excited him more than a well-connected shot. A dismissal never clouded his approach. He would have smiled even when getting out at 99. That is how Afridi played his cricket and won the hearts of spectators around the world.
If he landed in controversies, it was considered inevitable for someone of his temperament. When he was caught on camera chewing on the ball during the Perth ODI against Australia, he was living up to his image. He was promptly banned for two matches. He had earlier been banned for a Test and two ODIs for damaging the pitch in a Test against England in Faisalabad. It was Afridi at his competitive ‘best' and he received a verbal lashing from Kevin Pietersen for his act.
He took on a spectator at the Centurion Park, in 2007, and earned a four-match ban for using abusive language. Known for his sledging, Afridi, for once, met his match in Gautam Gambhir. The Pakistani, known to upset rivals with his verbal diatribe, was rattled by Gambhir's choicest vocabulary. It was rare occasion, in Kanpur in 2007, when Afridi beat a hasty retreat.
His first two Tests brought out Afridi's range. His debut was sensational: a five-wicket haul against Australia in Karachi in 1998. He had played 66 ODIs before gaining the Test berth. His very next Test saw Afridi displaying his batting wares in Chennai. The 141 that he crafted was the foundation for Pakistan's superb win in 1999.
There was a touch of arrogance to his batting. Disciplined batsmanship was not his strong point, but even then he produced some ‘quiet' innings to confirm his class. He may not have clicked as often as people would have liked him to, but when he did, Pakistan emerged a clear winner.
A pure entertainer, Afridi, 33, was always flexible in the batting order and never averse to bowling to set batsmen. He has 367 sixes to his credit, including 289 in ODIs. No batsman has struck as many sixes in international matches. Afridi was best equipped and talented to achieve this feat.
His premature retirement, dictated by the sorry state of affairs in Pakistan cricket, means international cricket would miss an entertainer. As Holding once said, “Cricket is not cricket without Shahid Afridi.”
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