Afridi's dilemma: Play to your strength
Afridi still wants to win people’s hearts by hitting huge sixes. He should, I believe, change this approach.
Shahid Afridi has been representing Pakistan for the last 15 years but he is still unsure about his role in the team.
Afridi joined the Pakistan cricket team as a leg spinner, when Mushtaq Ahmed was injured and the former was asked to join immediately to replace him. At that time, Afridi was one of the highest wicket-taking bowlers at the under-19 level. As a result, he was considered a reliable spin bowler but no special attention was given to his batting.
However, this changed soon, for Afridi, in his second One Day International (ODI) and his first international inning, gave an unforgettable record breaking performance against the then world champions Sri Lanka in Nairobi, where he scored the fastest century ever – 100 runs off 37 balls.
Here is the complete detail of his first century:
0, 6, 1, 0, 4, 0, 0, 6, 0, 0, 6, 6, 1, 1, 6, 6, 2, 6, 4, 4, 0, 0, 6, 6, 1, 4, 1, 1, 0, 4, 1, 6, 0, 6, 0, 2, 4
The world had never witnessed such an inning before. A partnership of 126 runs was set between Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi but Afridi’s contribution to this was 102 runs with 11 sixes and 6 fours in 37 balls only. He bowled well too but this career-boosting century became his only introduction in the world.
It was one of the best innings of cricket history, but at the same time, it confused Afridi about what his actual specialty was. He forgot that he came in as a bowler. The ‘Boom Boom’ fame he earned revolved around his batting not his bowling. Afridi has played many match-winning innings since then to maintain this reputation, including the ones he played to win World Cup T20 for Pakistan. Unfortunately, everyone around him told him that he could do wonders with the bat but no one did anything to help him improve this talent.
Afridi has a respectable batting average, 36.51 and 23.54 in Test cricket and ODI cricket respectively. He is the only player in the world whose strike rate has never gone below 100 (113.92 currently) in ODIs. These stats clearly show that this man has great batting potential. Afridi has also been a fighter with the ball and has won many matches with his unique style throughout his career. He was the highest wicket taker in World Cup 2011, but he suffered from poor form as batsman throughout the tournament. He was found frustrated every time he lost his wicket. He felt sorry for his bad shots; he tried to give justifications for his poor shot selections; he promised to be more responsible the next time; he even promoted himself up in the order in the fourth ODI against West Indies. But, he repeated his mistakes again and again.
So the questions that need to be answered here are:
Can Afridi improve as a batsman?
Should he try to improve as a batsman?
To me, the answer to both these questions is ‘no’.
Afridi enjoys bowling - he is creative and he knows the tactics of getting rid of a batsman. What he is not, is a creative batsman. Afridi does not enjoy batting. Hard-hitting is the only kind of batting he knows. Even Powerplays do not work for him anymore (the latest match is an evidence of that).
Most bowlers know Afridi’s weakness that he cannot hit a short-pitch delivery at off-stump; he knows this too but he never tries to curb this problem.
Having said the above, I must point out that there is nothing wrong with Afridi not doing well with the bat. Bowling captains of the past - Fazal Mehmood, Abdul Qadir, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis – all did not have great batting averages, but they were all great match winners, just like Afridi.
Shahid Afridi needs to know the reality that he is an excellent bowler and a good batsman. Speaking to the media once, he said that his first priority was bowling but his reaction every time he gets out, shows that he still wants to win people’s hearts by hitting huge sixes. He should, I believe, change this approach and clearly declare to the world what he is serious about and what his strength is.
The only suggestion for the skipper is:
Be clear about your strength and do not get confused. It hurts your and the team’s performance.