Thursday, 23 July 2009

Pen portraits - Shahid Afridi

Photos of Shahid Afridi at the crease tend to show the vast follow through of his bat over his shoulder, its arc often sufficient to lift him a little off the ground. The power of the village blacksmith is twinned with a surprising litheness of foot that takes the scythes of his bat beyond the merely agricultural and gives them the mark of the trained assassin. And he bowls well too. A bewildering variety of leg breaks and his trademark quicker deliveries, all delivered with a frenetic action that wouldn't be out of place in a school playground.

This last image neatly captures an aspect of Afridi's appeal. Born in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border - his tribe is a powerful one - he first burst onto the international scene at the age of 16 back in 1996 with this spectacular 37-ball hundred against Sri Lanka, the fastest ever in internationals, and has retained the boyish exuberance in his game ever since.

It can't be easy knowing that you're unlikely to better something you achieved at 16 (though he has also hit a 45-ball hundred against India, also on youtube) and Afridi has been a bit of an enigma ever since, not helped by the constant infighting surrounding Pakistani team selection. It is testament to the man management skills of the late Bob Woolmer that, as Pakistan coach, he was able to coax the best out of Afridi in Test cricket, with consecutive centuries against India in 2006 following fine performances against England that winter - in the 2nd Test, he scored 92 at over a run a ball and took 4-95.

Yet that Test also saw him incur a ban following his bizarre decision to scuff up the pitch with the world's TV cameras watching. More than once he has announced and then rescinded his retirement from various forms of the game and he often seems to have strange ideas about where his strengths lie. In the last year or so, he decided he was primarily a spinner and best used down the order in one-dayers - when he was moved up to No.3 for the semi-final and final of the Twenty20 World Championship earlier this summer, he promptly produced match-winning 50s. The striking thing about his innings in the final was quite how measured it was, quite how carefully tailored to the match situation, quite how un-Afridi.

Is this, then, to be the beginning of the mature phase of Afridi's career? For the moment, characteristically, he's keeping us guessing, taking a fortnight's leave instead of playing in the Sri Lanka Test series. That, though, is one reason that 'Boom Boom', as he's known, is so exciting: you never know what's coming next, boom or bust.

No comments:

Post a Comment