Afridi brings hope and uncertainty
Pakistan cricket, impulsive by nature, has appointed its most impulsive captain. Shahid Afridi, chosen for now to lead Pakistan's defence of the World T20 title, brings hope and uncertainty. Many Pakistan fans have lived an odyssey with Afridi, mesmerised by every twist of fortune and wishing him to grow into a player of genuine stature. Mr Boom Boom has been handed an opportunity to live their dream.
Afridi has been a box office cricketer for over a decade but when you analyse his career there are few moments of greatness. A record breaking first hundred in Nairobi, a match-winning Test century in Chennai, and then the World Twenty20 victory. The last two events were a decade apart. His career has been one of spasms of joy punctuating long pauses of disappointment for him and his supporters. Afridi has often thrilled but he has rarely transcended.
His critics, many of whom are Pakistan supporters, will be disappointed at this appointment. Afridi's temperament can be as erratic as his batting. He has had bust ups with team mates, scuffed a Test wicket with a dancer's swivel, and, in perhaps his maddest moment, gnawed a cricket ball when he was captaining his country. Afridi, say his critics, brings uncertainty and every chance that he will further dishonour his people. I beg to differ.
Captaincy is a complex art. Pakistan cricket is a complex environment. Yet the mess that Pakistan cricket finds itself in, much of it self inflicted, demands a simple methodology. Pakistan require their captain to lead from the front. Any dispute of that point was emphatically dismissed by the depression of Mohammad Yousuf's captaincy. Pakistan also require their captain to be aggressive, equally willing to light the fire in the bellies of his fellows and inflame the opposition. A tactical genius would be welcome but isn't essential. Passion goes a long way in Pakistan cricket.
The battered Pakistan team, despite its status as World T20 Champions, is screaming out for the defiance and attitude of Afridi. The challenge for Pakistan's new leader will be to control his most erratic urges, the ones that transgress the laws of cricket. Afridi can do it, provided he is properly supported by his colleagues and management, both of which are unfortunately open to question. But Afridi must be his own man, unbowed by this month's powerplay by the Pakistan Cricket Board. It is always better for a leader to be true to his convictions than, to use an immortal phrase, be a 'dummy' captain.
Shahid Afridi, of course, knows only one way. That is his appeal and his necessity. He brings hope that Pakistan can salvage something from the suicide bomb detonated by the PCB. More than ultimate victory in the T20 World Cup, Pakistan fans should be looking for a united spirit from their team and a competitiveness that has been absent since they lifted the trophy at Lord's. Indeed, in the absence and reluctance of Younis Khan, Afridi is Pakistan's best candidate to lead his country in all three formats.
Whatever the outcome, the Age of Mr Boom Boom will be compulsive viewing.
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Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here