Let me tell you at the outset that Shahid Afridi was always someone who amazed all of us here in India. We always knew he was not extremely talented but we also knew that he had enough to be a match winner. The thin line between not being greatly talented and still being a match winner made him special. The women loved him from when I was a kid to now when am married and entering 30’s is a different story altogether.
Afridi’s was one of those players who didn’t fade after initial exuberance. His name was embossed in history from the moment he played his second game against Sri Lanka in October 1996 in the Singer Cup at the age of 16. The swashbuckler hit a century in just 37 balls with 11 sixes to his name. 11 sixes in an innings was unheard of then. If that was a record, he also became the youngest to hit an ODI 100.
If his ODI debut was amazing with the willow, his Test debut was equally brilliant with the leather. He picked up a fifer against Australia to announce a different kind of quick leg-breaks (often bowled at more than 100 KMPH). It would always be debated what was Afridi’s key specialty. Was he a batting all-rounder or a bowling one. Whatever he was, he always made sure he entertained and showed a fighter’s spirit till the last ball was bowled or the last run was scored. Very few Pakistani cricketers could also boast of a fitness level that Afridi even manages today. His safe hands across the ground and his amazing ground clearance will always be remembered when greats are discussed in the modern ODI’s.
I would call him a batting all-rounder because his strike rate and total runs he scored and the way he scored those made him look like someone who wanted to conquer with the willow. On most occasions his need for hitting big runs would bring his downfall but till the time he was there, he would make even the shrewdest captain chew his nails. His career strike rate of 117 in ODIs and 145 in T20Is over a long career of 2 decades is evidence enough of his capability with the willow.
Afridi also captained Pakistan first in T20 in 2007 and then in 2010 in ODIs but his captaincy record is something he will not look back gleefully.
As evident from numbers above, his talent and love for the game lay in the limited over international formats. Possibly that is why the Pakistani great did not have a long Test career. Shahid was a gem in the T20 format. He worked on his strengths in the shortest form of the game and returned Man of the tournament in the inaugural World T20 in 2007 and won the trophy for Pakistan in 2009. He performed both with the bat and the ball. His exploits with the T20 format, more than 50 wickets and 1000 runs, has made him a loved commodity across the world taking him everywhere to play the format.
Boom Boom was not different from other Pakistani cricketers when it came to being part of controversies as well. He was banned on more than one occasion for a cricketing crime. The instance that comes to mind is when he was banned for a game for biting the seam of the ball, trying to rip the seam apart.
The cricketing world will not forget his cross-batted flicks that he would fearlessly hit against even the fastest bowlers of the world. Had the legend been a tad consistent and his mind would have occupied a egoistic heart for more than a few occasions, Afridi would have created many more match winning knocks but his arrogance would be his shortcoming on multiple occasions. The fact that he is one of the few who have scored more than 8000 runs and is still under the average of 25 tells a lot about the talent that possibly never got utilized well. Fortunately for him his bowling kept working for him and he is possibly only one of the two players globally who have more than 8000 runs and take 300 wickets in ODI cricket. Sanath Jayasuriya is the other.