The only thing that a Pakistani Cricket Fan loves more than the team’s victory is to watch Afridi in action. 20 balls for Afridi at the crease usually provide sufficient entertainment for the fans. The moment he steps out on a cricket field with a bat in his hands the whole of a nation just has one wish on their mind; “Please Lord! make it Afridi’s day today”. In the recent past, such days are few and far between but expectations remain constant. Shout of “Boom Boom” accompanies Afridi’s stroll from the dressing room to the middle on every single occasion. It’s like he has no other option other than to hit the ball out of the park on every delivery. You have to give full marks to the guy for trying though.
Sunday’s match against South Africa provided one such spectacle. Afridi’s blistering 88 of 48 balls against the Proteas, although couldn’t help Pakistan win the game but it surely lightened up Wanderers. Going through one of the worst bad patch of his career Afridi stormed back into form and it may have been the changed kit of the Proteas that changed the mode of aggressive middle order batsman. With seven sixes in a short and sweet stay the Pathan from Pakistan nearly snatch victory out of jaws of defeat. It was a demonstration of utter power and with Johannesburg Golf course just outside the cricket ground it nearly confused the umpires to decide whether Afridi was going for Sixes or Eagle putts. “That’s what Afridi can do to bowling attacks”; “you see that’s why we love this guy” were the views of Pakistani fans around me watching and enjoying Afridi’s assault.
So is he really that special? With 7197 runs and 348 wickets to his credit, Shahid is only the second cricketer in the history of one day international cricket to achieve this combo of scoring over 7000 runs and 300 wickets (Sanath Jayasuriya is the other one). While you can argue with the amount of games he has played there is no one denying the fact that Afridi is one of the most unique characters World cricket has ever seen. Combination of quick leg breaks and sliders to go with his unorthodox slogging and safe pair of hands make him a very useful cricketer for Pakistan Cricket Team for the past 17 years. In all fairness that what Afridi is; a “useful” cricketer. A cricketer who is contributing with bat, bowl or in the field. While you can’t compare Afridi with other great all rounders of his generation you can’t deny the fact that he will has his own representation in the history books.
The question here to answer for fans and selection board is; how long they are willing to wait for the next special knock from Afridi. Although very special Afridi 88 against South Africa was his first fifty in ODI cricket in over a year. Over the years many Pakistan cricketers have managed to keep their places in the National side based on one or two outstanding performances and Afridi is no exception. With an average of 23.6 with the bat and 34.11 with the ball in 352 ODIs Afridi has lacked consistency ever since he has started playing for the green shirts. While ups and downs are part of game, the former Pakistani captain has more bad patches in his career than what a professional cricketer would have liked. With young players like Hammad Azam waiting in the wings may be its time for Afridi to either step up and start showing some maturity (at the twilight of his career) or step down and be thankful to God for all the success he had over a prolonged career and patience and support shown by his supporters and give younger guys a chance.
If cricket is a game and the source of entertainment then in Afridi it has its greatest benefactor. Consistent or not he has done enough to left an everlasting mark on Pakistani cricket.