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Saturday’s Twenty20 game was an intriguing desert clash between England and a Shahid Afridi XI at a venue that could have been renamed Afridi World for the night. Among the Aztec hats, carnival masks, fluffy toys and inflatable camels there was an abundance of banners and placards, and a brief survey revealed that 99% of them referenced Mr Boom. His appearances on the big screen (approximately once every 30 seconds) sparked waves of jubilation, and the entire occasion seemed to be building to one point: the moment when the man himself arrived at the crease. Time divided neatly into two periods: BA (Before Afridi) and AA (After Afridi).
One of the few banners not proclaiming Shahid-love exhorted the Pakistan players to “captain like Imran, bowl like Wasim and Waqar and bat like Aamer, Saeed and Ramiz”. But until Abdul Razzaq entered the arena, their batting had been more Mr Bean than Mr Raja.
British politician Dennis Healey had a habit of referring to people who behaved foolishly as “silly billies”. This phrase popped back into my head as I watched Imran Nazir set about the task of laying a solid platform for Pakistan’s run chase. The first ball was hit stylishly down the ground for four. The second was blocked. The third was dispatched swiftly to the palms of third man with a mighty forehand smash.
His opening partner proved no more resilient. Soon after Nazir’s departure, Imran Farhat hit the ball straight up in the air and watched the white sphere soar into the night sky, like a wide-eyed child amazed by a firework.
It got worse.
“Don’t do it, Umar!” pleaded Ramiz Raja in the commentary box as the younger Akmal tried to hit Swann out of the ground in exactly the same way that Afridi hadn’t. Umar did it anyway and was caught where Ramiz said he would be. Silly billies.
Once again, the hard work fell to Fawad Alam, the slightly built innings-repairman, who it seems is permanently on call, and Razzaq, who did pretty much what Nazir and Co had tried to do, but better and harder and with more swagger. His mighty timberwork bludgeoned England to the ground and supplanted Kevin Pietersen’s earlier biffery.
Pietersen, of course, provides more entertainment value than just his knack with the willow. He is an absolutely hilarious runner between the wickets, mainly because he does not regard it as necessary to notify his colleague of his intentions. He first collided with Trott when he took the wrong lane, and then a few balls later ran him out. He bats like a magician but he runs like a sprinter with a hearing problem who can’t be sure the starter has fired his pistol but isn’t taking any chances.
But it was Pakistan’s day and though they didn’t bat like Ramiz or bowl like Waqar, they do have an Imranesque captain in the wings, even though technically the little “c” on the scoreboard was next to someone else’s name. But all that Urdu you heard via the stump microphone emanated from Afridi. He was busy, enthusiastic, always on the move. In two or three years, his team-mates may find it annoying. For now, though, his energy can still jolt his team out of lethargy and he sets off little sparks of belief wherever he goes. Welcome to Afridi World.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73