People & society - Meteor

Howzat — is Afridi Pakistan's gift to cricket?

Updated May 13, 2016 10:52am

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Illustration by Aan Abbas
Illustration by Aan Abbas

Shahid Afridi is a leg-spinning all-rounder for the Pakistan national cricket team who has played for 20 years. He is cricket’s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, except instead of a skull named Henry, he swings a bat like it has its own personality. On the field he has made over 10,000 international runs and taken over 500 international wickets. He travelled the world playing league and domestic cricket as a gun for hire, even playing in India when…

“OMG OMG OMG, Shahid Bhai, wow, has just hit the ball out of the ground, it’s gone, just gone, removed from sight, he just moved his leg and wooshka, it was a slap, a crash, a wallop, it’s the maximum of maximums.”

It was in 1996 in Kenya that a young boy of only 16 years of age strode to the crease to bat for his country for the first time. What happened next was 0610400600661166264400661411041606024100. Using a borrowed bat, this boy tonked the ball like a man, his innings was the quickest hundred in One Day International (ODI) history. It was almost too good to be…

“AAAAAAHHHHHH, he’s out, stupid, stupid, what was he doing, man, just whoosh and clang, no one can play that shot, come on, come on, come on, that is just silly, a waste, why does he always do this?”

As a leg-spinner perhaps the best way to describe Afridi’s bowling is probing. He was constantly at the batsman, with high-octane leg spin which curved in the air often as much as it spun off the pitch. He was difficult to get on top of, especially with a hard to pick wrong’un. Despite the fact it got less attention, his leg spin was, by far, the art he was best at. Out of his hand…

“YESSSSSSSSSSSS, straight through him, he was nowhere near it, it just zipped, the bails were off before the guy even realised which way the ball was spinning, he is too good, too much, too everything.”

11 centuries in international cricket. Most defying the laws of gods and men, let alone cricket. He won games on his own, with bat, with ball, sometimes with both. But it was the 2009 World T20 where he scored back-to-back half-centuries and won the tournament for Pakistan. He was focused, assured and completely in charge, some may claim he was possessed by someone else, but it was still pure Afridi. At the end of the final, Afridi was not out, he stood in the middle…

“LOOK LOOK, what a legend, cock-a-doodle-doo, arms up in the air, head side to side like a proud puppy, winning us the match, the tournament, the world.”

If there was a state between retirement and unretirement, where you could be simultaneously retired and unretired at the same time, Afridi would have been living there since 2006. That is, 10 years of ‘will he or won’t he’ tension; he’s a serial uncommitter. It’s as unpredictable as his…

“NOOOOOO, he can’t, ouch, he did not just do that, what, why would he retire mid-series like that, we need him, we need what he can do, what is wrong with him, dude?”

He has danced on the pitch, angered his fans, angered opposition fans, hit a fan, played politics and bitten a cricket ball live on TV. There was no part of his cricket that did not inspire an emotion. Hate, love, confusion, whatever, he was there to hit balls and…

“WOW, WOW, no, what, how can he do that, how is he doing that, slap, smack, thump, and wham, he’s crazy, man.”

Afridi was Pakistan’s gift to cricket, but he wasn’t a gift to Pakistan cricket all the time. For all the enjoyment, the sheer brainless popcorn entertainment he gave the world, for Pakistani fans he put their already nervy disposition into hyperdrive. Afridi was Pakistan cricket in human form. Every flaw, every gift, all the magic, all the disappointments, the whole thing, wrapped up in silky hair like a…

“WHAT THE, what, I mean just what, ding dong, I just don’t know how to even, I mean, this cannot be happening, it’s just too weird, too much.”

He bowled leg spin like a quick bowler, he batted like the world was about to end, he was often more what people think Pakistan cricket is than what Pakistan cricket actually is.

You do not use normal words when talking about Afridi, you use sounds and onomatopoeia. You say “boom, boom” and that is enough. Sometimes it wasn’t enough. Sometimes it was too much. But it was always…

“BOOM, boom”.


This was originally published in the Herald's April 2016 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.