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Shahid Afridi: The Player Who Lived For Cameos

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Last updated on 01 Mar 2023 | 03:06 AM
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Shahid Afridi: The Player Who Lived For Cameos

One of Pakistan's greatest all-arounder, Shahid Afridi was born on this day in 1977

Just like the craze for cricket stands among the many similarities between India and Pakistan, remembering a cricketer by his cameos is often counted among the many idiosyncrasies between the nations.

A prime example of that mannerism would be Sahibzada Mohammad Shahid Khan Afridi. Born on March 1, 1977, Shahid Afridi debuted for the Pakistan cricket team on October 2, 1996, in an ODI against Kenya, where he didn't get to bat. He got the chance two days later against Sri Lanka and scored the then-fastest century in ODI cricket.

The knock had changed not only the perception of limited-overs cricket but also of Afridi himself. While it cemented his stay in the Pakistan team forever, it cursed him to play a certain way forever. 

After breaking into the national team by being a bowler and a batter at no. 8 or 9 for most of the Under-14, U-16 and U-19 levels, adapting himself as a pinch-hitter at one down was difficult.

"At the start, people's expectations were from my batting - that he will come and hit out. To change myself was really difficult," Afridi had said in an interview with ESPNCricinfo.  

From the moment Afridi smashed the fastest ODI ton - a record that stood for almost 17 years - he knew he was a crowd puller. The adamance of a 16-year-old bowling-allrounder never left him, and whenever his captains and coaches tried to mould him into a batter, they failed.

"In the first 15 overs of an ODI, with field restrictions, they would want me to run singles and doubles, to hit fours along the ground, and not go aerial and attempt sixes. I didn't have that in me in the first place, so how was I going to bring it about? I was trying to become a batsman from a bowler…." Afridi had said.

Afridi never understood why a batter with the strength and power to hit a straight six would resort to a reverse shot. This resistance to adaptability remained with him throughout and resulted in multiple drifts. His eccentric style was detrimental to the Pakistan cricket team's sustainability, and his spot in the Test team was soon gone, with the player retiring from the longest format in 2006. 

After scoring the fastest century, Afridi took two more years to get his second ton in ODI, and he would retire with only six centuries to his name in the 50-over format. But, the player never lived for the records.

However, while Afridi's batting had limitations, his bowling variations became a lethal weapon in white-ball cricket. Whether it be his quickish leg breaks, googlies or conventional off-break bowling, Afridi needed help to read. Combine this with his inconsistent but explosive batting, and he becomes an almost ideal T20 allrounder. 

The chaos in Afridi's game found an anchor in T20 cricket. He became the Man of the Series in the 2007 T20 World Cup when Pakistan ended as the runners-up. He compensated for that in 2009 when Afridi's fifties in the semi-final and final helped Pakistan to lift the title.

By the 2011 ODI World Cup, Afridi had enough match-winning cameos to lead the Pakistan side, and the freedom had given him wings. Under his captaincy, Pakistan had reached the semi-final of the ICC tournament, with Afridi ending as the joint-highest wicket-taker alongside Zaheer Khan.

Consistency was never Afridi's forte, and his 20-year-long career in cricket has largely been a series of cameos at the right place and right time. His biggest strength wasn't his technique but the fans, who had nicknamed him Lala and never got tired of watching him.

Shahid Afridi was beyond analysis. How else would one describe the same player holding the record for the best bowling figures (7/12) in ODI and conceding the most runs (13632) in an ODI career history. Afridi could muster only 8064 runs in 398 ODI matches but, at the same time, ended his career with the most sixes in ODI cricket history. He remains the only player apart from Sanath Jayasuriya to score over 4,000 runs and take over 300 wickets.

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