Few cricketers have embraced this great game with such outlandish talent as Shahid Afridi. The contemporary age has produced blokes like Gayle and De Villiers, talents who straight away ridicule bowlers, succeeding in breaking their backs by coming down heavy with the bat.
But long before the scoop shot or the reverse sweep swept audiences off their feet, before the ‘Gayle-storm’ came about, there was Shahid Afridi; Boom-Boom Afridi, who didn’t need experimental cricketing strokes to stamp his signature on the game.
Every sport, goes by some ground rules. In Cricket, you don’t tamper with the ball outside off. Batsmen opt to defend their wickets in tense or early moments. They would rather keep off the blade from coming in way of a real peach of a delivery. But these rules weren’t applicable to Shahid Afridi.
A player who made his own rules
Rather, should it be said, Afridi wasn’t applicable to these rules. As distant from being a classical copybook batsman as is the North Pole from the South Pole and not exactly a conventionally unorthodox stroke-maker, Afridi created his own rules and stuck to them.
It, of course, goes without saying that he perished often quicker than batting an eyelid. But even in the dying moments of several games, Afridi upped the ante of scoring with a great strike. Akin to a true big-hitter of the white ball, in an uncompromisingly passionate way, being passionately uncompromising. It could be argued, where cricketers often go the long extra mile in collecting painstaking runs, batting session upon session, all it would take Afridi to notch up a quick-fire cameo or a fiery fifty would be the scenario of flexing his arms and some customary repetition of the same.
Therefore, there’s little surprise that he garnered a massive 8064 ODI runs in a long career but little surprise as to why so many of his achievements aren’t celebrated as they probably lack the usual constructs grinders bring to the game: focus for long periods of time and importantly, where batsmen are concerned, the ability to not throw the wicket away.
The fierce striker who went the distance
Afridi wasn’t about the gentle nudges around the deep mid wicket for a single. Nor was he about guiding the outgoing delivery toward third man for elegantly timed late cuts. He was brutish, he tendered a hawkish instinct to tear apart bowlers and did it with sufficient success to afford him a career that began in 1998 and came to an end not before 2016.
And in these nearly 2 decades of being in non-stop high-voltage cricketing action, Afridi oversaw big hits, dip in forms, altercations with fellow players but ultimately, succeeded in popularizing cricket in Pakistan and, in turn, Asia.
We’ve all seen how Afridi bludgeoned them all- Vettori, Tuffey, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan, Pollock, Symcox, Hooper, Heath Streak and co- with absolute disdain. But what we often don’t regard is probably that Shahid Afridi was the only constant in a Pakistan unit that was so susceptible to change. He was among the few impact players and the common face that often emboldened Pakistan’s cricket during its onerous phases of transition that came about the post Wasim-Waqar-Anwar-Inzamam- Sohail era that assumed new names and fashioned hopes from triumphs around the likes of Shoaib Malik- Mohammad Hafeez- Umar Gul- Umar Akmal- Saeed Ajmal- Wahab Riaz.
A fierce bowler; more than just a free-striking batsman
In an age where cricket has forever, along with its bandwagon of globetrotting fans remained in awe of all-round talents- Shane Watson following closely on Jacques Kallis, Mohammad Hafeez following in closely on Steve Waugh, Afridi, it ought to be reminded was no lame pushover when you consider he has 443 wickets from both formats. His leg spins would often turn sharply going away from both right and left handers, carrying enough bite to probe questions that willow-wielders often didn’t have answers for; his high arm action powered by a breezy run up to the popping crease that often enabled him to hurl the quick one really deceptively well.
Even as Afridi was a complete standout and not even remotely close to the graceful or Midas touch of classical stroke-makers from a Pakistan that birthed many iconic legends- Zaheer Abbas, Hanif Mohammad, Saeed Anwar, Mohd. Yusuf and, Younis Khan- he was ironically the perfect compliment to a cricketing system that was often notoriously dubbed anarchic. Where tyranny often last long than promising careers. Where fall-outs with fellow cricketers made national headlines over and above a series triumph.
Was Afridi a kind of a flawed enigma?
This isn’t to suggest his own relationships with so many of his contemporaries- Younis Khan, Misbah Ul-Haq, Razzaq and Hafeez weren’t strained. But truth be told, even in his bouts of temper, you’d never feel Afridi lacked the zest for ensuing over a spirit of brotherhood.
To a bad ball- and there’ve been many he’s collected runs of, he’d free his arms to gather around a six. But often, to a good ball, one pitched short of good length, and on other occasions, clinging close to the leg stump, Afridi would simply move away the back leg and scramble a huge heave. The ball would, more often than not, greet a spectator a few rows back in the stands. Not a cricketer who loved Test cricket, and it could be argued typical to his penchant for white-ball cricket, Afridi didn’t exactly relish Test cricket.
48 wickets from 27 Tests cannot sufficiently argue the case for him being a true all-round cricketer in the game’s longest format. But if you consider that with his phenomenal consistency, Afridi latched on the sport in a fashion T20 has on the minds of its young audiences, you’d consider a freak force of nature like Afridi to be a mainstay where the propulsion of the game matters.
The Superstar for Pakistani Cricket
Afridi, it could be argued was the standard bearer for playing explosive cricket in an age where there was no dearth of graceful stroke-makers and legends who catapulted to copious, expansive history books. Consider the Lara’s, the Tendulkar’s, the Sangakkara’s and, Warne’s; Afridi outlasted them all.
He was invasive; he woodpeckerd the mind of the bowler, altered his plans and resulted, more often than not, in finding a really torridly bad delivery on which he’d find go boom-boom. How often has modern cricket afforded a world-class striker who’s thudded a mind-boggling 352 ODI sixes?
From both formats of the game, Afridi emerged with 402 half-a-dozens. It could be argued that especially in the aftermath of 2009 and 2010, when globetrotting media buzz and an acclaimed passion for the sport resulted in round the clock action, Afridi didn’t slow down and perhaps reached a new point of reinvigoration come the ICC World T20 2009. He took 11 wickets, including a 4-for against Netherlands and 2 useful fifties.
For someone whose abilities with the bat forced viewers to rethink of his caliber- prompting one to duck the tag of a pinch-hitter to regard him more as a swashbuckler, Afridi didn’t stoop in character nor changed his orientation in the sport, even as Cricket continued getting layered by hoopla and shenanigans. Bravo Shahid Afridi!
Maximum sixes: To this day, Afridi remains the batsman to have stuck the most number of sixes in world cricket- 351 in ODIs and 52 in Tests
Most Man of the match awards: 11 in T20s
Highest batting strike rate for batsmen over 3000 runs: Afridi’s strike rate at 117 tops the list in limited overs cricket.
Fastest fifty by a Pakistan batsman in ODIs: on three occasions, Afridi has struck an 18-ball fifty, a world record.
Only Pakistani batsman to hit sixes of four consecutive balls: Afridi against Harbhajan in a Test match, 2006
Most sixes struck by a Pakistani batsman in an ODI hundred: 11 during his 37-ball hundred
Pakistan’s most capped player: 393 ODI games
Most Man of the Match awards in ODIs: 32 Man of the Match award wins