'Boom Boom' thunders in Sharjah
Don't bother looking at the umpire's finger when Shahid Afridi takes a wicket, just watch the man himself. The instant Afridi strikes his star-man pose, fingers pointing to the heavens, cue pandemonium. Sharjah, scene of heroics from the revolutions of Javed Miandad's bat and the bowling arms of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, has the boom of Mr Boom Boom to add to its legend. Afridi didn't simply win the Man-of-the-Match award, he owned it.
As Sharjah's cricket public revived the thumping atmosphere of bygone days, Pakistan's players rekindled some past attributes. Spirit, an ancient virtue, was in evidence as Sarfraz Ahmed and Saeed Ajmal supported Afridi to pose a total of opportunity. Later that same spirit surged through the Pakistan team as Sri Lanka crumbled, losing seven wickets in the space of 19 runs. Pakistan's bowlers were once masters of defending a low total just as the lower order was accustomed to fighting for every run. Those skills seemed lost but are beginning to return.
Here Afridi was an inspirational catalyst. First he coaxed his fellow batsmen to rally around him, as he produced one of those responsible efforts that leave you wondering why he doesn't control himself more often, hitting through the line with effortless power. With the batting Powerplay and Ajmal for company, the moment seemed ripe for death or glory. Instead, Afridi worked the ball with good sense, rightfully trusting his partner, and launching himself when the ball merited it. This was an atypical Afridi assault, a sensible one, and it perplexed Sri Lanka.
Ajmal was a willing accomplice with bat - and he would later prove to be the same with the ball - nonchalantly stroking the Sri Lanka bowlers and flicking his head to demonstrate his self-belief. In any other match, a match not utterly dominated by Afridi's personality, Ajmal would have been its most valuable player.
Under the dark Sharjah sky and blinding lights that had flummoxed Dilhara Fernando's attempt to catch an Afridi missile, the star man shot through Sri Lanka's innings with leg-breaks, googlies, off-breaks, and rocket-powered faster balls, inducing an ear-splitting ecstatic cacophony in the stadium as loud and frenzied as in any of its previous 200 ODIs.
Afridi's return to international colours was always a formality; a return to heroics was far less predictable, especially with such measured thrill-making. One of the issues with Afridi has always been how to harness his ability, and on this evidence Mohsin Khan and Misbah-ul Haq may be on to something. Misbah has allowed the strong personalities in his team, like Afridi and Younis Khan, to flourish, demonstrate leadership, and take ownership. Misbah's captaincy is shorn of ego, a maturity that has escaped Pakistan cricket for decades, perhaps since the time of Mushtaq Mohammad, and creates an environment for flair with responsibility.
Whatever the magic formula, Pakistan must stick to it, for despite a couple of areas that need strengthening in the starting XI Misbah's team have developed a winning habit. Sri Lanka's poor form has helped but Pakistan, especially the bowlers, have been hard to suppress at times.
A diligent team becomes dynamic when Afridi is roused and booming. When Afridi strikes the pose and the crowd roars its approval, any neutral venue would become a home away from home. For Pakistan, Sharjah has always felt like a second home. In those circumstances, when the stadium lights lit up, a night of magic should have been booming at us from the stars.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here