Afridi's bringing boom boom back!
Lala has given me more angst than joy in his career but he'll always be my favourite - my cricket superstar.
I started following cricket sixteen years ago when I was hardly five. It has been the only sport which has kept me so engrossed for such a long period of time.
My passion for cricket was ignited by my love for Shahid Afridi. My liking for all other sports fizzles out after a certain period of time, but cricket, for certain remains a sport which will continue to be a craze for me for the better part of my life.
In my sixteen years of watching cricket, I have seen some of the greatest teams play and witnessed some of the legends of the game demonstrate their immense talent. I have come to understand all the nuances of the game, but till date I have not found a more substantial reason for my devotion towards cricket than Shahid Afridi.
Afridi started playing international cricket at the age of 16. He was a brash lad with good looks and a winner's attitude.
Immediately after his fastest century in his second ODI, he became the heartthrob of millions. No one in the cricketing world had any doubts regarding the immense talent he possessed, but we all expected him to be a consistent performer with the bat in hand.
Everyone, including myself, wanted him to score fifties and centuries each time he came to bat. We wanted him to clobber the finest bowlers, but he is a human being after all and couldn't deliver every time.
Often times, Afridi could not control his nerves and emotions when the thousands were chanting ‘Afridi Afridi!’ and ‘Boom Boom!’ so he succumbed to the pressure of the crowd and often and left us yearning to see what he could have achieved if he showed a little patience.
Afridi, due to his inconsistency, was an in-and-out player for the earlier years of his career. Though I was mostly let down with his batting, I got more upset whenever he was dropped from the squad.
Just watching him in the greens was enough solace for me.
Lala, as he is popularly known, discovered another talent after his continuous failings with the bat. While he used to bowl a couple of overs in One Day cricket and was predominantly used as a partnership-breaker, he soon discovered that he had some talent with the ball. He could bowl the right arm leg break and googly - effectively too.
He started working on his leg-spin and developed in to a very good bowler around 2004-2005. Who can forget the peach of a delivery he bowled to get rid of Sourav Ganguly in the Bangalore Test of 2005 and turned the entire Test match on its head? He did not spin the ball too much, but it was his accuracy which amounted for most of his wickets.
Afridi possessed the ability to drift the ball in the air. His repertoire of deliveries included a conventional leg-spin, a slider, a faster one, a googly, a flipper and an off-spin, which meant that he could bowl six different deliveries in an over.
I, being an ardent fan of Afridi, started to understand that bowling was his stronger suit. He had much more control on his nerves and his skill with the ball in his hand than the bat. Basically, he was a bowler who could bat rather than a batsman who could bowl.
Afridi, however, is special because of his unpredictability.
If he would have become consistent, Sachin Tendulkar would not have been called the ‘Little Master’ he is, and there would have been two greats in our region.
There was destined to be one Sachin Tendulkar and he was born in India. However, for once, Afridi stole the limelight from Tendulkar when he scored a masterful 141 with the bat in the Madras (now Chennai) Test of 1999 and overshadowed the brilliant 136 of the Little Master.
His memorable performances with the bat include the fastest century in One Day cricket made from 37 balls at the Nairobi Gymkhana Club, 109 against India in Toronto, 141 versus the arch rivals in Chennai, the second fastest century made in Kanpur in 2005, back-to-back hundreds in the Test matches in Lahore and Faisalabad in 2006, his two centuries in the Asia Cup of 2010 and his match-winning fifties in the semi-final and final of the T20 world Cup in 2009.
Afridi’s memorable bowling performances outnumber the ones with the bat. His five-wicket haul on his Test debut against Australia, 5-11 in the Champions Trophy against Kenya, five wickets in the Bangalore Test of 2005 including the wicket of Tendulkar in both innings, 6-38 against Australia in Dubai, 5-35 against Sri Lanka in Sharjah, man-of-the-tournament performance in the 2007 T20 World Cup, title-clinching performance in the 2009 World Cup, 21 wickets in the 2011 ODI World Cup, and several other performances show that he is a far superior bowler than a batsman.
Afridi lost a great deal of his charm and a lot of supporters too in the past year. His performances in 2012 worried me, not because he wasn’t scoring with the bat, but because he had become really ordinary with the ball. The bowler who had so much control on his deliveries seems to have lost all his skill.
Recently, Afridi was dropped from the bilateral ODI series with India on the grounds of poor form both with the bat and the ball. Although he did not regain his form in the matches he played against Afghanistan captaining Pakistan, the selectors gave him a last chance by including him in both ODI and T20 squads.
As has been the case throughout his career, whenever there have been calls for ending his career, he has come up with performances that have stunned everybody. Similar was the case on Sunday when he hit a blistering 88 of 48 balls including seven mammoth sixes!
The six on the free-hit literally went out of the park and many have regarded it to be the biggest six hit on South African soil. The performance was reminiscent of our old Boom Boom who could bludgeon sixes out of the ground and make a mockery of the opposition bowlers.
He deserved to score a hundred but unfortunately fell twelve short.
On the bowling front, there are still major concerns. He has not picked up a single wicket in the three ODIs and has gone for plenty of runs. Having said as much, I assume that as long as he bats like this, no one will grumble about his bowling.
To wrap up my little tribute to my favourite cricketer, I will say that it would have made no difference to my devotion whether he performed in the current series or not, but I am jubilant that Afridi gave me one more performance to cherish for the rest of my life.