19 wickets at 21.15
A 40+ score and a four-wicket haul in the final
Another 50 and a four-wicket haul in the league phase to boot the cause
All of that while casually leading the side to its second successive title
There was hardly anything that Shaheen Shah Afridi did wrong in the Pakistan Super League 2023. Not bowling-wise, not batting-wise, not captaincy-wise. Given the kind of history that Pakistan has in terms of managing their pace-bowling resources during injury layoffs, it was great to see Afridi’s return yielding such remarkable results.
Even in Afridi’s case, the ligament injury in his right knee was properly diagnosed a month after he first suffered from it in July 2022 during a Test match against Sri Lanka. He went to London for treatment, but then Shahid Afridi revealed that PCB were not paying for the expenses. Imagine the state of affairs that the best player of your team, a generational talent at that, had to go through due to the negligence of your own board.
Hence, it is remarkable that Shaheen punctuated all the setbacks to pull through and deliver a sucker punch just months after a long-term injury. His returns against India and Zimbabwe in the ICC T20 World Cup were disappointing, but then mounting South Africa and New Zealand on their way to the final, Shaheen ensured that there was no lethargy on his part to worry about.
That is the thing that great cricketers are known for. You don’t doubt Jasprit Bumrah because he had a couple of bad series. You don’t doubt Steve Smith because he had a couple of single-digit scores in his last match. If the approach is everything that defines a cricketer’s sojourn, then the best-case scenario is always reserved for eternity.
Shaheen Shah Afridi was too good a cricketer to miss out on that. Forget the bowling aspect, you just need to watch his half-century against Peshawar Zalmi during the league phase which he backed up with an unbeaten 44 off 15 balls in the final against Multan Sultans to understand his batting evolution. Shaheen always had the shots in his repertoire but the PSL saw him channeling them the right way to help the team.
The evolution of T20 cricket has ensured that multi-dimensional players have become valuable to the set-up. Hence, the blow-up prices for the likes of Cameron Green and Sam Curran in the Indian Premier League couldn’t be argued with. Afridi identified that framework and decided to work on his skill level. He used himself as a pinch-hitter in the PSL 2023 to have the best chance of succeeding in situations that demanded the absolute best.
When Sikandar Raza departed in the 15th over of the PSL final, leaving Lahore Qalandars reeling at 112 for 5, Afridi wasn’t padded up even, knowing very well that David Wiese and Rashid Khan could do the job better. But as the situation changed, he had to quickly act on his feet.
"Obviously we know Weise and Rashid are someone who can score quickly even when there are only a few balls left. But in some games, I felt if I go in before them, it would be better for the team," Afridi said after the PSL final.
"And whenever I try something, I have the complete backing of [head caoch] Aaqib [Javed] bhai and [COO] Sameen [Rana] bhai.
"In fact, I had only one pad on. But I stopped him [Weise] because since Khushdil Shah was bowling, I didn't want to give away an extra wicket. I thought if I could connect a couple, we could put them under pressure. And that's exactly what happened."
On the bowling front, his talent was never in doubt. But the awareness that he could be a perfect bowler in all three formats, without trying to hit the 150kph mark regularly, was the foundation on which his bowling growth story is written. In the last six months, precisely since his comeback from injury, Afridi dropped his pace but didn’t compromise on his accuracy and the ability to swing the ball, and that helped him retain the credibility he garnered over the years.
He could have just focused on his bowling aspect alone and no one would have questioned his place as one of the premium players in world cricket. But by deciding to upgrade himself, Shaheen has put a step towards absolute dominance.
There’s nothing sexier than a player pushing the limits to become the best version that they can be. Looking for that extra bit. The nose for doing something more than fundamentally what they are assigned for. It is those bits that define the career when credits roll and Shaheen Shah Afridi is on the right track to achieving the top spot in the cricketing royalty.
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