July 15, 2013

Afridi speaks the magic word

Dare to dismiss him and he returns with an eye-popping performance

When he gets going, it usually ends in a match-winning performance © WICB Media

"Owowwahwowwahwow!"

I think that's what he said? Shahid Afridi's return to international colours is hard to describe but combinations of "Wow" and "Wah" will do nicely.

Dare to dismiss him as a fluke, a man who sometimes gets lucky playing his game of craps, and he returns with a champion's response. Afridi has too many records and Man-of-the-Match medals to his name. He scored the fastest hundred in one-day internationals, and helped his country win a T20 World Cup. Afridi is no fluke. He is flawed and infuriating but there is magic in those Pathan eyes and wrists.

Seventy six off 55 balls and bowling figures of 7 for 12 are stuff of school or park cricket, when a decent player crashes the party. You might dream of such a performance in an international but you would laugh at yourself for imagining it. That is the thrill of Afridi. The highs are living a daydream.

West Indies aren't the strongest team in the world, but they seem ever on the cusp of a resurgence. At Providence Stadium they had Pakistan in ruin on a pitch that Misbah-ul-Haq described as almost impossible to bat on. Misbah, a man of his words, blocked to 52 runs in 121 balls. West Indies, thrashers all, struggled to 98 in 257 balls. Any method was destined to fail except, and not surely by providence alone, Afridi's.

Afridi, dropped from the Champions Trophy, has been bristling to prove the world wrong. Statements, tweets, and any manner of posturing after the South Africa tour have sent a strong message that he wants to go out with a boom by playing the next World Cup. In fairness, his batting was a treat in that South Africa series too. But he was judged on his bowling, which was harsh, as the series wasn't one for spinners.

When international wonders like Imran Farhat and Shoaib Malik made the Champions Trophy squad, and Pakistan travelled without an allrounder, it was hard to understand the logic of Afridi's exclusion. Why was Afridi less deserving of one more throw of the dice?

One explanation is that with Afridi there is no certainty about what comes next. The only certainty is that when he performs, it is usually a match-winning exhibition. On this occasion, his determination to return to the team and contribute has been impressive. How long will it last? Nobody knows, not even him. But when Shahid Afridi is on song the magic word on everybody's lips is owowwahwowwahwow!

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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