If ever cricket produced a maverick batsman who hasn’t lived up to his potential even after 17 years of top class cricket, it is Shahid Afridi. And does that even slightly bother him? Absolutely not, I can assure you!
It is slightly ironic that I write this after Afridi has played not one, but two match winning knocks in succession. Yet when this 21 year old (oops, was he older than that?) walks into bat the next time, the fielding team knows that a wicket is always round the corner. But on his day, Afridi can win you matches from impossible situations. When he walked in to bat in the game against Bangladesh, the home team were trying to win with a bonus point. In a few overs, they left the ground with their heads hanging as Afridi not only denied them the bonus point, but denied them a face saving win! This is what makes Afridi a fan favorite all over the world.
Cut back seven years ago to the inaugural T20 World Cup final in South Africa. Afridi, still the young 21 year old, walked into the center with the match evenly poised. Only a ball later, he walked back to the pavilion having slogged one on to the stars before it landed right into the hands of a fielder. Yet, at the end of the game when Pakistan lost a close contest, Misbah Ul Haq, who single handedly took the team so close bore the brunt of the blame.
Nobody questioned Afridi.
Why? Because he was being Afridi. That’s what Afridi does.
The madness, the eccentricity, the stardom are all part of Afridi; and if you even try to remove one of these characteristics, he wouldn’t be himself. Nor would he have been half as popular as he is now.
It is safe to say that it is his bowling that has kept his place in the squad for the past 5-6 years. Afridi is a leg spinning bowler with two lethal deliveries; the conventional google and a super quick one, the latter which can put medium pacers to shame. Not only this, he can rush through his overs in the blink of an eye, which itself is a weapon in the limited overs version of the game and with his catching skills added makes him a dangerous package.
But it is his batting that has got him fans world over. His urge to slog every ball onto Mars makes him a definite crowd puller and quite often brings spectacular results like making the fastest ODI hundred on his debut, which was not broken until a couple of months ago. His strike rates may be higher than anyone else, but inconsistency has been written all over it. His test career never really took off with his brutal 141, the second fastest century in Tests, at Kanpur being the highlight of a stop-go career.
As a batsman, Afridi will never be the finisher that a Misbah Ul Haq is. As a bowler, he will never be as dangerous as Saeed Ajmal. But the fear he instills in the opposition is unmatched and the adulation and adoration he receives is unparalleled. Afridi is a superstar in his own right, a one of a kind cricketer that the world may never get to see again. He is truly a phenomenon.