To Afridi, with love from India
As I sat down to write a tribute to Boom Boom, I wanted my typing to match the speed that Shahid Afridi played with all his life. But unlike his short cameos, my emotions and love for the cricketer got the better of me and it took me a lot of time to pour out my heart and feelings as I know that the charismatic Pathan will no longer be seen in the 50 overs game.
I am from the generation of the late 90s, when cricket had gathered real pace and velocity, ODI cricket was scaling new heights and, after the 1996 World Cup, the Sri Lankan duo of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana had redefined the 50 over game with their style of aggression.
This really excited me and, as an Indian, I was hoping for someone of the similar kind in my own team, even though players like Rahul Dravid were starting to peak at that time. And then, a few months down the line, something happened, something that changed the cricketing world, something that changed my life – an innings played by a 16-year-old, unknown player from Pakistan brought the world to his feet.
I personally did not see the match as I never watched any cricket played by the Pakistan team back then. I had only heard about him on the news and from my cricket loving family. Just hearing of him was enough to build excitement and I got a sense that this might be the player I was looking for.
It was an Eureka moment for me; I found my hero, I found someone in cricket that I can cheer for and who made me start to watch games played by Pakistan as well. As for being an Indian and belonging to an Indian family, which was a diehard Indian cricket fan, it was very difficult for me to single out one player from Pakistan and cheer for him even when he played against India and scored his century in the Sahara Friendship Cup in Toronto. I was on cloud nine; I forgot that he actually scored a ton against my nation. Just the excitement of watching a striding innings in those days was enough for me to get drawn to this lad.
For me, he was all about hitting and galloping boundaries but for my elder sister, he was more than that. I remember how she often asked me to get his posters from sports shops which were sold more than posters of Indian cricketers in those days. She would stick his posters all over her room, on the wall and on her cupboard, and I can say without a doubt that she too had found her hero. So, I had found a companion, one that would always accompany me in watching the Pakistan cricket team play, especially when Afridi was in the line-up.
I got more attached to him, his every move on the field started to draw me in in further. I began to follow his bowling too, along with his batting; I took extra time to watch his quota of 10 overs.
Then came Sharjah – Afridi was peaking, he was mesmerising.
I would say it wasn’t just satisfaction that drew me to an Afridi inning, but it was also the notion that this crude form of batting could succeed, albeit sporadically, in international cricket and that this boy was being allowed to play the way he wanted to. For purity, I had Rahul Dravid’s drives, but for adrenaline, it was Afridi.
Patience was never a virtue for Afridi. He liked speed and he thrived on providing the opposition and cricket viewers with thrilling action. At the crease, he was always in a hurry, be it batting or bowling. There always just two conclusions to every ball he faced – a hit or a mishit.
Years later, the Pakistan team toured India with Afridi in 2005 at Kanpur. Another century, same opponents – this was one of those games where I again wanted India to win but the when Boom Boom came to open the innings chasing Indian target, I forgot what nations are, I forgot what partition was, I had risen above such petty issues. I only had love for the game in my heart which knows no boundaries, which knows no borders and love for the player, who I had always loved because of his performance on the field and not his nationality.
It was in 2008 that I watched the 37 ball century on Youtube for the first time; the pain of not being able to witness the inning live had finally subsided to a small corner of my heart. The video quality was grainy, but watching Afridi smoke six after six was exhilarating.
And lastly, how could I forget the Asia Cup in 2014, with unfortunately the same team once again on the receiving end. I realised that there were countless moments which both gave me pleasure and heartbreaks whenever India and Pakistan played. It frustrated me so much that I would always curse the partition and think,
“Afridi and Sehwag could have been on the same team.”
Overrated for some, impatient for many but there are not much statistics to validate their arguments, because the record which he holds is very difficult to achieve by a one player. But all we can say is he is a package, all in one, and all his records are a testimony to that.
He remained a glowing flame in the murky world, a hero for millions, a reason for smiles and cheers for people not just for his own country but for the whole cricketing world and, without a doubt, he is the most loved Pakistani player in India too. I have seen the spark in everyone’s eyes whenever Afridi came to bat and the jeers from the female Indian audience speak for their love for this flamboyant Pathan.
I know he’s not done yet, he will be seen in 20 overs cricket, so there’s still something for me to look forward to, but I have always associated him with ODI cricket and yes, being stuck on 395 ODI wickets is as painful for me as it is for him. I wish it could have been one of those premature retirements. At least I get to witness him once more, maybe in UAE, because the vision of him is incomplete unless it’s in Sharjah.
For me, he is still that 16-year-old lad, the young and promising Shahid Afridi. He entertained us with his unique brand of cricket and surely left a lasting impression on the game. He was and will always be cricket’s greatest entertainer.
To the irreplaceable Boom Boom, thank you for all the memories.
With love from an Indian and India.
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