Shahid Afridi: An entertainer who never let anyone settle down
A tribute to the swashbuckling Pakistani all-rounder.
“These are not hits, these are scud missiles,” said the commentator while referring to one of Shahid Afridi’s 351 ODI sixes. The match in question was Afridi’s second ODI and only his first ODI innings. He went on to score a century off just 37 balls which was then a record for the fastest ODI century.
So with 11 sixes and six fours in an innings that lasted 40 balls, a 16-year-old Sahibzada Mohammad Shahid Khan Afridi had announced his arrival on the cricketing stage.
His inconsistency was as consistent as Pakistan’s inconsistency
For the next 20 years, he was more than a name to reckon with in Pakistani circles. And much like Pakistan cricket, over the years, he tasted both the zenith and nadir of cricket. His inconsistency was as consistent as the Pakistan team’s inconsistency. One day he would smash the opposition with his ‘Boom Boom’ batting and on others, the mode of his dismissal had fans pulling their hair.
It is due to this inconsistency that he is the only player to score more than 7,000 ODI runs at an average under 25.
Afridi and his rendezvous with controversies
The other word that was synonymous with Afridi was controversy. Controversies and bans were a part and parcel of his two-decade long career. In November 2005, he was banned for a Test match and two ODIs for deliberately damaging the pitch in the second match of the three-Test series against England.
He was again banned in February 2007 on charges of bringing the game into disrepute, after he was seen on camera thrusting his bat at a spectator who swore at him on his way up the steps after being dismissed. In January 2010, he was yet again banned for two T20 Internationals after he pleaded guilty to ball tampering.
Sometimes, he challenged these bans while on others, he tamely surrendered. Talking about a challenge, he also challenged the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in May 2011 and announced his conditional retirement from international cricket in protest against his treatment by the PCB. His condition for return was that the board be replaced.
To retire or not to?
Much to the relief of his fans, neither for the first nor the last did he decide to return from retirement. In fact, his retirement had become the subject of many jokes due to the consistency with which he announced them and then denounced them.
Extra Cover: Detailed List of all Shahid Afridi retirements
Unorthodox to the core
With Afridi, the only thing that was guaranteed was surprise. Not even the keenest reader of the game could have predicted his next move on or off the cricket field. Who would have thought that a player who had been picked as a leg-spinner would go on to become one of the most destructive batsmen of his era? Surprising as it may seem, he was inducted into the Pakistan team as a leg-spinner, as a replacement for the injured Mushtaq Ahmed in the Sameer Cup in 1996-97.
To his credit, although he may not have been the first choice spinner for most of his career, he was nevertheless, more than handy with the ball. His career tally of 372 ODI wickets at an economy rate of 4.62 in close to 400 ODIs is a testimony of Afridi – the leg-spinner.
Nothing about Afridi was orthodox, be it his swashbuckling batting or his fast leg-spinners. Watching him bowl, it sometimes looked like he was quicker than many of the Indian medium pacers of the 1990s. His Test match bowling record of 48 wickets from 27 Tests may not put him in the category of true all-rounders. But then, Afridi and Test match cricket never did have a great love affair.
Relished the shortest format of the game
His sweetheart was T20s, a format in which he truly excelled and brought great laurels to the Pakistani cricket team. He won the Man of the Series award in the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007. In the next edition of the T20 World Cup, he led the Pakistani team to victory with match-winning performances in both the semi-final and the finals.
He was adjudged as the Man of the Match in both these high-profile games.
The all-rounder also holds the record for the most wickets (97) and most Player of the Match awards in T20 internationals.
Will be remembered as an entertainer
As he finally retires from all forms of international cricket, he may not find a name for himself on the list of all-time great Pakistani batsmen or all-rounders, but then, does it make a difference to him or his millions of fans?
While his fans would be hoping that he makes another return from retirement, even if he decides against a comeback, he will be remembered as an entertainer who never allowed anyone around him to settle.
He had once said, “I think Pakistan are dark horses who can change the game anytime”. Well, he himself was a dark horse who had the potential to win matches for his team at any stage in the game.