Afridi played cricket differently and quite effectively, too

“I have said goodbye to international cricket. I have played with seriousness and in a professional way for my country,” says former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi in Sharjah.

Shahid Afridi... a pure entertainer.   -  AP

Shahid Afridi retires! He actually retires again. This time for sure, following a public announcement at the end of a Pakistan Super League (PSL) match in Sharjah. His legion of fans must be disappointed. They would never get to see an entertainer like this Pathan who firmly believed the ball was only meant to be hit hard and dismissed into orbit.

Afridi’s association with cricket goes back 21 years when he made his debut as a bowler against Kenya in the KCA Centenary Tournament. In the next match, and his first innings (he did not get to bat in his debut game), Afridi plundered a 37-ball century against Sri Lanka. Afridi as a batsman was what appealed to the cricket world more in times to come.

Shahid Afridi batted fearlessly.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

 

Afridi as a bowler was crafty too at times but it was his brand of batting that gave this exciting stroke-maker a distinct identity. He was regarded a tough bowler to tackle because he brought variety to his leg-spin. Some of his deliveries would crash into the pads with the speed of a fast bowler.

I met him first in 1998 in Toronto for an interview for The Sportstar. I was warned not to shake hands because he could leave you with a hairline fracture with his extra-firm grip. He came across as a fun-loving and honest cricketer. “We can talk but only in Urdu. I am not comfortable with English,” he smiled and spoke his mind on the game.

In the subsequent years, the world followed his cricket exploits with excitement. Afridi and Virender Sehwag were arguably the only two who batted fearlessly. They would nonchalantly smash the first ball they faced, but the comparison ended there. Sehwag was miles ahead in terms of class and consistency.

He first quit the game 11 years back when he decided not to play Test cricket. Four years later, in 2010, he finally said that Test cricket was not on his agenda anymore. A poor World Cup in 2015 compelled him to bid adieu to One-Day Internationals. Twenty20 gave him a good option to extend his career.

He broke many hearts with his announcement in Sharjah. “I have said goodbye to international cricket. I am playing for my fans and will continue to play this league for another two years but it’s goodbye from international cricket. Now my foundation is important for me. I have played with seriousness and in a professional way for my country.”

Shahid Afridi’s bowling skills paled in comparison to his batting acumen.   -  REUTERS

 

Afridi’s decision to bow out of the game he so loved was not sudden. He had been contemplating the issue of his future in cricket following the poor show in the World T20 in India last year. Much was expected from Afridi but the campaign suffered due to his uninspiring form. He came in for criticism for his tactics against India.

His game was tailor-made to play the decisive part in Pakistan’s excellent showing in the first two editions of the World T20 tournaments in 2007 and 2009. He was the Player of the Series in 2007 when India won the title in the last over. The 2009 edition in England saw Afridi make a strong statement of his form and calibre, producing two outstanding knocks of 51 against South Africa in the semifinal and a matchwinning 54 not out against Sri Lanka in the final at Lord’s. Like Mohinder Amarnath in the 1983 World Cup, Afridi too claimed the Man of the Match honours in the semifinal and final. He had done justice to his potential.

For all his aggressive batting in the shorter formats, Afridi was quite an underachiever in Tests. Only 27 Tests, against 398 ODIs, clearly highlighted his failure to adapt to the longer format even though he hit five centuries — one of them against India in the epic match in Chennai in 1999.

It was his debut Test against India and he made it memorable with an innings that changed the course of the game. India earned a 16-run first innings lead and with it a huge psychological advantage, but Afridi swung the contest with an innings of 141 in Pakistan’s total of 286. Sachin Tendulkar responded with a 136 but failed to win the contest for India.

Afridi, 36, was a bit of an intrigue on the field. He would be devastating in a session and out of tune in the next. Consistency was not his strong point but then he was never willing to make a compromise. He always believed in batting on his terms. If it meant to swing the bat in a Test like in a T20 contest then be it! Afridi was not one to adjust. The bowlers had to watch out. Afridi was a brand that inspired many youngsters around the world. It would be tough to expect an entertainer like him. He played cricket differently. And quite effectively, too.