The madness that is Shahid Afridi
Throughout his 16-year international career, Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi, popularly known as Lala or Boom Boom, played the game with unparalleled pride and passion. As his career draws to a close, he remains the heartbeat of the nation and the biggest limited overs match-winner ever produced by Pakistan.
His ESPNCricinfo profile at one time used to state that “Afridi is the maddest of all mad maxes”. He himself has publicly said that he would like to be remembered as “the craziest cricketer to have ever played for Pakistan”. Those are strange words to describe a cricketer, but probably apt for someone like Afridi.
There have been plenty of mad moments and crazy antics that have been a part of Afridi’s international career such as roughing up a pitch with his spikes, biting the ball, several international retirements and comebacks, punching a fan, and speaking openly about issues with the board and management, yet these are not the reasons why Afridi will be remembered by the world.
Afridi mastered limited overs cricket
For Pakistan, Afridi is a hero. He is a proven match-winner who single-handedly won matches for Pakistan with the bat, with the ball, and even through his fielding. His 32 man-of-the-match awards in ODIs – the highest ever among all Pakistan cricketers and third highest in the world – is a testament to Afridi’s match-winning ability. His 9 man-of-the-match awards in T20Is is the highest number of such awards in the history of the T20 format.
Afridi will be remembered as Pakistan’s most valuable ODI player and a giant of the T20 game: he not only captained an average team to the semi-final of the 2011 ODI World Cup but also ended it as the tournament’s joint leading wicket-taker; he was the player of the tournament in the 2007 World Cup T20 where Pakistan finished as runners-up; he was the main architect of Pakistan’s victorious World T20 campaign in 2009, winning the Man-of-the-Match award in both the semi-final and final.
His Test career, however, would remain unfulfilled despite a debut 5-wicket haul against Australia and a magnificent century in his second Test (against India). His figures suggest that he was a much better Test cricketer than he was an ODI or T20 one, but his temperament got the better of him in the longer format of the game. Under better guidance and management, Afridi would have had a much more illustrious Test career; he definitely demonstrated the potential for one in the 27 Tests that he played.
Afridi’s international career began in 1996: He was touring the West Indies with the Pakistan Under-19 team when he received an SOS from the PCB to take the next flight out and join the senior team in Kenya for a quadrangular tournament as replacement for senior leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed, who had been ruled due to an injury. Afridi had been developing a reputation of being a dangerous leg-spinner in domestic and U-19 cricket, which played a major role in his national call.
Afridi made his debut against Kenya bowling 10 overs for only 32 runs without picking up a wicket. He was slated to bat at number 9 in that match, but his turn never came. During a net session before Pakistan’s next match, Saeed Anwar witnessed a side of Afridi that probably no one else had ever seen before.
Waqar Younis, Azhar Mahmood, Shahid Nazir, and Saqlain Mushtaq were deposited to all corners of the ground as Afridi threw his bat around in the nets. On seeing the carnage, Anwar, who was captaining Pakistan in Wasim Akram and Aamir Sohail’s absence, took the decision to send Afridi as a pinch-hitter in their next match against Sri Lanka.
The rest, as they say, is history. Afridi walked out to bat at number 3 in that match. He was at the crease for a total of 50 minutes during which he produced the most destructive ODI innings ever played at the time. The right-hander smashed Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, and Sanath Jayasuriya to all corners of the Nairobi Gymkhana Club Ground, scoring 102 runs off 40 deliveries.
His century, which came off only 37 deliveries, remained an ODI record for 18 years till it was broken by Corey Andersen, and then again by AB De Villiers.
Pakistan had to put up a big total and defeat Sri Lanka with a heavy margin to make it to the final of the quadrangular tournament, and his knock did just that. Pakistan scored 371 runs batting first in that match – it was their highest ever total in ODIs till it was overtaken by their 385 against Bangladesh in 2010, which was also due to an Afridi century.
Afridi started creating records right from the moment he stepped onto the field as an international cricketer, and he hasn’t stopped yet. He has had an illustrious career, but nobody knows what it could have been like had he not been mismanaged at the start.
How he was mismanaged
Afridi was only a leg-spinner when he hit that fastest ODI hundred, following which he was forced to open for his country in ODIs. His coaches, captains, colleagues, and fans wanted him to smash the leather around every time he walked out to bat. That he was essentially a leg-spinner was soon forgotten, and the PCB employed the likes of Javed Miandad and Geoffrey Boycott to help Afridi become a proper batsman.
Such unrealistic expectations, due to one magical innings, changed Afridi’s life forever. After a while he himself did not know whether he was a bowler who could bat a bit or a batsman who could bowl a bit. He never became a proper batsman, and to make things worse, his bowling suffered too as a result of the expectations on him to deliver with the bat.
If it were anyone else, the player’s career would have ended a long time ago given the sort of pressure Afridi used to be under. But it was Afridi, a man made of steel, a man with more pride than the whole nation combined, a man who gave it his all every single time he stepped out in his green colours. Despite the failures, the pressure, and the constant speculation about his place in the team, Afridi went back to his roots and mastered the art with which he began his career – leg-spin.
Resurrecting his international career
For the period between January 2008 and December 2012, Afridi was the highest ODI wicket-taker in the world. Since January 2007, Afridi has the third highest number of wickets in ODIs and is one of the only three bowlers in the world with 200 ODI wickets since then.
With 395 ODI wickets, Afridi is the 5th highest ODI wicket-taker of all time, 3rd highest ODI wicket-taker for Pakistan behind Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, 2nd highest ODI wicket-taker among spinners behind Muttiah Muralitharan, and the highest ODI wicket-taker among leg spinners.
For a long time Afridi was the leading wicket-taker in T20 internationals; currently he is at third spot behind two of his countrymen – Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul. Afridi is the only cricketer in the world with over 8,000 runs and 350+ wickets in ODIs.
His critics say that he is the slowest to 8,000 runs in ODIs. In terms of average, he surely is far slower than the rest. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that he is also the fastest to 8,000 runs in terms of strike-rate, by a mile.
Afridi is at the end of the road of his international career. He gave up Test cricket in 2010, and after 19 years, he has left the ODI game as well. He will continue to play T20 cricket for Pakistan till the World Cup T20 in 2016, and we will still be treated to some more of Afridi for another year. And then he will be gone forever.
Pakistan will never have another Shahid Afridi, and the fans will never cheer again the way they cheered for him. Shahid Khan Afridi, you will be missed!