This blog has done exclusive threads on many players before- Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Asif, Tendulkar, Sehwag etc but never on Afridi. Shahid Afridi’s journey in international cricket has been fraught with various accomplishments but some controversies as well. He enjoys immense fan following but divides immense opinion amongst fans and critics.
At Nairobi in 1996 the Pakistani team management decided to take a gamble by sending a leg spinner by the name of Shahid Khan Afridi to bat in the top order. Afridi was known at domestic level for an occasional pinch hitter but primarily as a bowler. And what a gamble it turned out to be. As Afridi hit Muralitharan and other bowlers for sixes, people realised the effect of clean, fearless hitting.
This type of hitting was never seen before in international cricket. People speak of players who make batting look easy and who change trends in cricket. There are many Pakistani players who have accomplished heroic and unprecedented deeds and have found their way in history books. Imran Khan for captaincy, Miandad for his tenacity and last ball six, Wasim and Waqar for their reverse swing, Saqlain for his doosra and so on and forth. Yet, we rarely ever discuss that Afridi has played such a significant part in the way cricket has eventually become a batsman’s game. Adam Gilchrist, Chris Cairns, Imran Nazir, Dhoni, Sehwag etc, these players started making their presence felt and hitting the ball cleanly in attempts to hit all the way for six. I believe Shahid Afridi has played a monumental
role in certainly influencing, if not changing the art of modern batting.
In fact when it comes to quick runs Afridi is better than the abovementioned players because of his strike rate. Afridi’s strike rate is 114 in ODI’s compared to Dhoni’s 88 and Sehwag’s 104. One must not forget he has played 314 ODI’s and his playing style has largely remained the same in this 15 year career. Afridi has 6 centuries in ODI cricket and 31 fifties; this is for those critics who think he can only score big by fluke. Speaking of flukes, Afridi proved that the Nairobi 37 ball 100 was not a fluke when he scored the 2nd fastest century in ODI’s against India in India.
2007 saw the rise of Afridi the expert bowler. Since 2007 Afridi has been world class. Recently I divulged that Afridi’s bowling statistics since 2007 are better than Harbhajan’s and Vettori’s career statistics. Recently Harsha Bhogle commented that Afridi is arguably the best spinner of the world. It is the transition from being an ordinary legspinner to being the best ODI spinner that speaks in volumes of the talent this man possesses.
Normally bowlers become batsmen as they reach towards the end of their careers. This happened with Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Saqlain, and this has also happened with players like Gillespie, Warne, Harbhajan and Zaheer Khan. However with Afridi the reverse seems to have happened. Although Afridi started off as a legspinner, it was
obvious that his batting was the more commendable aspect of his attributes, not least because he broke a few batting records. However Afridi has become a wicket taking bowler as time has progressed. This is something that has cemented his place in the ODI team. In my opinion Afridi was born to play cricket. That he has diversified from being an ordinary bowler, to a pinch hitting specialist to a world class bowler shows that he was born for this sport. It also shows the range of his talent.
Yet, his bowling and batting are not the only admirable traits of his. Afridi is also a charismatic leader. He does know of any alternatives to playing except with
patriotism and passion. He may have scuffed a pitch, eaten a ball or pointed his bat towards an aggressive spectator, but he has never been involved in bribery or spot or match fixing. The former acts can be attributed to stupidity as they have not by themselves been committed outside the public gaze. However, the latter acts are done outside the public domain with a deliberate scheme to change the outcome of a match. A wrongdoer who commits a shameful act in front of the world has a different mindset to one who does it in hiding or worse still, one who does it in hiding with the intention of underperforming for his country. This is the difference between players like Wasim Akram, Saleem Malik, Salman Butt etc and Afridi.
In this World Cup Afridi has breathed life into the team which is high on morale. There were plenty of hurdles Pakistan had to go through but they have conquered all of them yet. Pakistan’s challenge is now solely the danger that Australian and South African pacemen pose. Whatever the outcome of Pakistan’s campaign in this Cup, this victorious start will long be remembered. Shahid Afridi’s team is one that was being laughed at before the Cup for its controversies and disorganisation but one week into the World Cup and Pakistan are being hailed as favourites. This is the magic of Afridi.
In conclusion, Afridi is the pulse of Pakistan cricket. He embodies Pakistan’s unpredictability, the excitement, the fairy-tale glories and I cautiously say, the genius. He has hit the most sixes in international cricket, he is only the 2nd ODI player to have made 6000 runs and taken 300 wickets, but his greatness is neither limited to nor is evident by numbers. His greatness is the effect his energy and his passion has on the opposition. His talent is evident in the way he has played some of the most stunning limited overs’ knocks, taken some miraculous catches and his uncanny but dangerous legspin. He is a seriously under rated cricketer and we would not support him so much on this blog if he was rated fairly. His critics do not look beyond his average of 23-24 in ODI’s. With this cricketer, you need to look at the overall picture and not one statistic.
He will not retire as the highest wicket taker or the highest run scorer. However, he will retire as a damn good contender to be one of the most influential and iconic cricketers the world has ever seen.