It was the year 1996, an indelible year filled with many unfading memories for any die-hard cricketing fan. The world cup of 1996 brought many ‘for-the-first-time-in-the-history-of-cricket’ moments. Srilanka was considered an unsafe venue to play (thanks to LTTE and the spate of bombings), Walkovers by Australia and West Indies, the abandoned India-Srilanka match and an unforgiving Eden crowd (remember the scenes of burning stands and a tearful Kambli?), the revolutionaries- Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana, who took pinch-hitting to new levels of lawless and unruly batting. The impact was a long-lasting one. Not too long though. During the monsoon of September 1996, a little known Sameer Cup was played among 4 nations. Pakistan without tampering the world cup team made few changes in their line-up. Then came the 16 years 217 days old ‘pathan’ who later became a phenomena in the Pakistani batting line-up. Brought in as a replacement for the seasoned leggie Mushtaq Ahmed, Afridi went wicket-less on his debut. On 4th October 1996, I was at school occasionally rushing to the nearby tea-stall to have an eye on the score. What I witnessed on the day was pure anarchy on the cricketing field. 11 sixes, 6 boundaries and a century in 37 balls against a nation which thought audacious batting was their birth-right. To put it in marketing terms he was a ‘disruptive innovation’ in the game that was venerating Sachin’s class. Afridi became a new episode in cricket and his temperament was indubitable.
For 20 years his temperament hasn’t changed a bit and his dislike for logic and calculations continue to amuse. As a true lover of the game one would want him to look back and feel sorry for not approaching his game with a mind. But it’s too late for someone who is close to his sunset days and doing so is completely un-afridi like. Afridi or ‘Boom-Boom’ as he is fondly called has always been controversy’s favourite child. Whether it is speaking against PCB, ball-biting/tampering, his love-for-India or his ‘K’-word(Kashmir) comments during press meets, he is a guy who always loves to wear his heart on his sleeves (don’t know whether his batting style stems from this character or it is otherwise). In his 20 years of service he has won many matches and tournaments for his country. A strike rate of over 100 in ODI’s is a feat not achieved by many in the game. Inconsistency is a short-coming which he never wanted to address, because he would have become a victim of frailty attempting to approach the game with technique. This unfair world is filled with ungenerous cricketing fans and a cricketing board like PCB can only get unruly to keep its ‘fan’-atics happy. But this broad-shouldered pathan who loves to dance-down the crease was a gentleman of the game on his own terms deserves a send-off like any other greats of the game.
When he goes home, Afridi may not get a hero’s welcome or a champion’s send-off (read PCB chairman shahryar khan’s statement). But as a true-lover of the game by-passing the nation he represents, his flawed technique & his troll-inviting post-match presentation talks and press conferences, you cannot stop loving this guy for his temperament and formulaic batting. I will miss the shoulder-jerking(a unique body-language every-time he sends the ball out of the park like a lion that jerks its torso after tearing into its prey) mean-machine who was a nightmare to many bowlers. His stay in the crease is shorter than a mayfly yet the impact he leaves is colossal. For the last 20 years if I have stayed tune to watch Pakistan play any team (other than India) then it’s purely to watch ‘boom-boom’ go bombastic for that brief moment.
Shahid Bhai! There are many greats who turned a life full of jokes into history and many went down turning a life full of history into jokes. While the media which mistakes short-memory for clear conscience will continue to crucify you, a true-fan will look back at the memories you have given. Not to forget the charity work that you are currently doing for the poor. You were right in your comments about receiving lot of love in India. Just add me up to that count. On 4th October 1996 while walking home from school I was arguing how things have changed in cricket. 20 years since, changes are aplenty except your temperament. Long live lala! Will miss you!