ODI bowling winner February 19, 2010

A leggie returns

Afridi began cricketing life as a bowler and now he seems finally to have come into full bloom as one
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Best ODI Bowling Performance

Shahid Afridi
6 for 38 v Australia
first ODI, Dubai

It says much about Pakistan cricket and even more about Shahid Afridi that it took near 10 years for all concerned to settle upon the conclusion that he is actually a specialist bowler. He often said so at the very start of his career but no one really listened. He even took a five-for on his Test debut, the not inconsiderable scalps of the Waugh twins and Darren Lehmann among them, to make the case.

But then he did silly, confusing things, like scoring the fastest-ever ODI hundred in his first international innings, and from one-down at that. He debuted in Tests as an opener and even hit a hundred from there in only his second Test, in India of all places.

He began life as a bowler. He was a quick one at first - and from the looks of it could still, like Thommo, give it a good whang - until he was told that legspin might work out better in mohalla games. Tariq, his elder brother, was meant to be lightning quick, and he has the firmer handshake of the two. Afridi was picked for Pakistan for his bowling as a replacement for Mushtaq Ahmed; he had just taken 10 wickets in an U-19 game against West Indies. Wasim Akram's eyes were among the first to properly assess him, and he had it right: Afridi has a bowler's psyche not a batsman's mindset.

But Afridi the bowler, as we now know him, came into being in August 2004, in a long-forgotten quickie in the cricketing outpost of Amstelveen. In and out of the side before that, with little clarity over his role, he has since been an ever-present, missing just 15 ODIs: the complicit understanding is that he now makes it into the side as a bowler first. Where and how he bats are mostly irrelevant, though everyone still gets in a twist about it. He used to bowl just over six overs a game on average before then, whereas he now bowls close to nine; so vast is the difference in strike rates and averages, it could conceivably be two different bowlers.

The de-hyphenation explains it: before, he used to be run-saving, partnership-breaking or part-time. Now he is unquestionably a strike bowler, a man for wickets in a stretch of the game when wickets are not so likely. Yet his skills are still often undervalued.

Commentators tell batsmen to play him as a gentle medium-paced inswinger, and even if the first picture to come to mind of such a type isn't Mark Ealham, it is an insult. It is drift Afridi gets, not inswing, and only very able spinners get it consistently. The leggie doesn't always spin, but the wrong'un invariably does, and he has a clever, orthodox offbreak as well. The faster one rarely comes out in front of international cameras anymore, but every batsman knows the threat is there. The exception these days is the day where his line and length are off.

There is no orthodoxy in legspin, so we should not be afraid to call Afridi a legspinner. If you go by the personality traits of two of the more successful ones, then Afridi is there. He has the bluster, the bluff and most definitely the bravado. In any case, only two leggies have taken more ODI wickets and only five spinners sit ahead of him in the list (one of whom is Sanath Jayasuriya). Why he doesn't play Tests - and it is his own decision - many have yet to figure out.

Until this career-best against Australia, he had again lapsed back briefly into defensiveness: the three men in the point region to stop the single, the loose short ball. Rust might explain it; in the year leading to this game, he had taken 31 wickets in 22 games, but almost all against minnows. Competition had been missing, and he thrives on it; equally he fails in the heat of it, but he goes at it full pelt.

On a slow, gripping surface in Dubai, he attacked Australia. The key to the spell was the flight, for it was more than Afridi generally gives and with it came quite sharp drift and dip. Three fell driving, two going forward to defend. Only one, Andrew Symonds, went cutting, a most common mode of dismissal for Afridi for he gives less room and more hurry than sometimes batsmen think.

The wicket of Shane Watson, Australian cricket's He-Man currently, was easily the pick. Again there was flight, to which Watson prodded forward, cautious, fairly compact. There was a gap but it still needed the ball to drift in from well outside off, land and break in further to hit off. It did, proof emphatic that the ball is best in Afridi's hand, not coming off his bat and not in his mouth.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • waspsting on February 22, 2010, 2:39 GMT

    i've always rated Afridi highly as a bowler- he doesn't flight it much, but is pretty accurate. if he bowls a bad ball - and he doesn't too often - you can cover it with a man in the deep. spinners that flight the ball might get slogged for fours and sixes, but flat, accurate spinners can do well. I'll bet Afridi's economy rate (the big measure in ODIs ) is up there with the best of them. and his batting is ALWAYS dangerous - a potential matchwinner anytime. in ODI's, I rate him very highly - one of the ALL-TIME GREATS. glad to see him getting some recognition!

  • Cricinfouser on February 21, 2010, 20:57 GMT

    i think as time has passed afridi has become more mature in his bowling which he says is his primary skill. He keeps batting as a secondary skill.. but he has also shown lots of maturity in his batting too...

  • bakibillah on February 21, 2010, 20:06 GMT

    plz remove BOOM BOOM from the logo of your bat. Congratulation for the awards Best bowler of ODI. Plz play with your heart and soul for PAKISTAN. PLZ good play cricket for pakistan & supporter.

    Thank you.

  • ExtraSillyPoint on February 21, 2010, 4:17 GMT

    Totally agree with aztecs...the Pak team is more entertaining than all other cricket teams combined...wonder when they'll release the movie :)

  • aztecs on February 21, 2010, 0:11 GMT

    To all the Pakistani Fans, dont you just love it when you get our rivals keeping an eye on our cricket cos their cricket doesnt offer the same excitement!!! How many of us do you get commenting on their boring articles, and its so wonderful that we get so many of them commenting on our articles. Only tells me that there is no line of control when it suits them lol!!!

  • ExtraSillyPoint on February 20, 2010, 22:19 GMT

    @nauman ... dude dont even compare Afridi with the top 3 for pakistan. Wasim, Waqar and Saqlain are in a different league. Afridi averages much lower than 1 wicket per match and in the top 30 only Jayasuriya and Kallis have comparable figures in terms of wickets per match(both of them being part time). If we were to take wickets per overs bowled I am sure even they would be better. Taking into account number of matches played is important since in ODIs a lot of the time, batsman get themselves by going after you so bowling a certain number of overs will almost guarantee you keep buying the odd wicket. Not to say Afridi is not a decent bowler but nowhere compared to other bowling greats from Pak.

  • dummy4fb on February 20, 2010, 19:04 GMT

    Congrats to Afridi for winning this award, and he rightly deserved. He worked hard and has been performing well consistently for the past few years. Lot of maturity come in his batting and a lot more in his bowling. Specially in T20's. And I hope under his leadership Pakistan will win this T20 World Cup once again InshaAllah. He should return to Test level as well, as Pakistan need him. All the Best to Afridi n Pakistan.

  • dummy4fb on February 20, 2010, 6:52 GMT

    well done SHAHID AFRIDI PRIDE 4 THE PAKI NATION

  • McGorium on February 20, 2010, 6:44 GMT

    @Hasnain Ahmed: I think Manjrekar's bigger point was that he tends to value runs in big tournaments versus bilateral games. It's his criterion, and I can buy your argument wrt Sachin Tendulkar.

    However, the Sehwag argument is different: 1) Sehwag has scored on bouncy tracks (Aus: 195, 155 come to mind), SA (105 on debut, maybe more). He is iffy on swinging tracks but how many modern batsmen can confidently handle that? Even Ponting struggles on such tracks. Also, Sehwag has done fairly well in England and NZ, on swinging tracks. The only ones I can think of, who will consistently do fine on such tracks are Dravid and Kallis. Also, how many other batsmen have made triple hundreds, playing on similar flat tracks? How many can score 290 in less than one day? Not even Tendulkar/Ponting/Hayden. So, lets give the man credit: his lack of proper technique makes him look suspect, but Viv Richards wasn't technically perfect either. You can't average 53 and be a flat track bully (think Yuvraj)

  • dummy4fb on February 20, 2010, 6:44 GMT

    if u lov this flamobyant boom boom so v shud give him a bighand because it is quite a acheivement i just love him forget guys all those controversies jst look his perfoamnce

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