KARACHI: Ignore Shahid Afridi at your peril, that is the message he has been sending out since making his debut.
The 30-year-old, now Pakistan’s captain, is widely regarded as one of the most destructive batsmen in limited-overs cricket. Coupled with his wicket-taking ability as a leg-spinner, he is a one-man demolition squad.
But the added responsibility of being captain could be make-or-break for Afridi. His dashing style has made him one of the most popular players, adored by millions of fans, many of whom leave the ground once he gets out.
Afridi’s hitting knows no bounds. In only his second one-day match, he wrecked a strong Sri Lanka attack and hit a 37-ball century in Kenya — still a world record. Afridi also holds the record for hitting most sixes (288) in One-Day Internationals, three of the six fastest one-day hundreds and two of the three fastest limited-overs fifties.
With his uncanny leg-spin and brilliant fielding, Afridi is a complete cricketer who is a role model for fellow players.
Former captain Imran Khan believes Afridi is the only man who can lift and unite the talented but unpredictable Pakistanis.
“Afridi is the only man who can motivate and unite the team and if he hits a purple patch during the World Cup he can guide Pakistan to the best finish,” said Imran, who led Pakistan to their only World Cup triumph in 1992. “He can win matches single-handedly.”
Afridi said he wants to emulate the two Khans who have brought two world titles to Pakistan - Imran in 1992 and Younus Khan, who led Pakistan to the 2009 World Twenty20 crown. Afridi starred in the World Twenty20 triumph and his responsible knocks in the semi-final against South Africa and in the final against Sri Lanka were crucial.
Being captain and motivator for the team at the same time will not be easy, but Afridi has been backed to excel.
“It’s remarkable that his best comes when the going gets tough,” said former left-arm paceman Wasim Akram, under whom Afridi played his first World Cup in 1999.
Four years later in South Africa, he continued to warm the bench before things got even worse in 2007.
A month before the World Cup, Afridi was banned for two matches on charges of threatening to hit a spectator during a one-day match in South Africa. He ended up watching Pakistan lose to Ireland from the sidelines before playing an inconsequential match against Zimbabwe.
That bitter history of disappointment could be all the motivation Afridi needs in 2011.
Runs 6,583 Highest 124
Average 23.93 Strike rate 113.75
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2011.
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