ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

India v Pakistan, World Cup 2011, 2nd semi-final, Mohali

A visceral leader of men

Shahid Afridi has been a true leader of men, with them on bad days and good days, taking Pakistan ultimately to a place few expected them to reach

Osman Samiuddin in Mohali

March 29, 2011

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Shahid Afridi trapped Devon Thomas lbw for a golden duck, West Indies v Pakistan, 1st quarter-final, World Cup 2011, March 23, 2011
The success of any Pakistan captain lies basically in his own individual success, and Shahid Afridi has had that in this World Cup © AFP
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Until two weeks before this World Cup began, it mustn't be forgotten, Shahid Afridi wasn't even captain of Pakistan. Misbah-ul-Haq was a strong contender and a number of players were said to be unhappy with Afridi's gift - and curse - for public straight-talk, particularly when criticising players.

Yet, in four days time, he may well be a World Cup winning captain. He continues to be appointed on a series-by-series basis and he must be the only captain in the world who doesn't complain about that unstable arrangement. Every game, he insists after all, he plays as if his first or last. He thrives on it.

So now he leads his team into a World Cup semi-final, precisely as he said he would before the tournament began. It's India, so it will be among the biggest games he has played, and for many of his younger players, a game that can make a career. Ian Chappell has criticised him, but really? Afridi, as captain, taking Pakistan this far? If you'd said it two years ago, you would have been committed.

The success of any Pakistan captain lies basically in his own individual success. Players respond naturally to the man who does well, because they think that makes him strong, the man who can get stuff done, the man who can make 'em or break 'em. Afridi has done it by becoming arguably the most important player in the side and its very personification. Few would have expected him to be the leading wicket-taker at this tournament so far but here he is, having bowled vital, wicket-taking spells throughout. Take him out and the nature, to say nothing of the threat, of the side is greatly diminished.

Without ball in hand, on the field, he has led by energy, keeping his players alert and on edge. Occasionally he has shown tactical awareness. No Pakistani captain had opened with spin, for example, until he did so with Abdur Rehman against New Zealand. Against West Indies, he picked Saeed Ajmal to combat their left-hand batsmen but opened with Mohammad Hafeez, whose spell set up the game. He has brought back his strike fast bowlers at the right time, early when needed.

Behind him, Waqar Younis has provided a very organic assistance. They haven't used any gizmos, there is no nutrition expert or fitness guru or mental conditioner. They've just made the players work damned hard in practice and allowed them to play a game of bat and ball on the field.

Probably the two smartest things Afridi has done have been away from the play. One, he has taken on board a clutch of senior players in the side, men such as Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Abdul Razzaq and Umar Gul. He has mostly just let them be, trusting their experience, but involving them as well on the field and in training, where Younis and Misbah have been particularly influential.

And in the public eye he has backed each and every one of his players, making some tough calls. Players from the periphery, like Razzaq, to the under-fire, like Kamran Akmal (apart from a brief period of wobble in the immediate aftermath of New Zealand) to the out-of-form, like Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez, have been persevered with. He has backed them in the name of stability, in the name of a winning combination. Not all has made sense, but togetherness has been built, hardly a murmur from the dressing room.

"Some things I do very emotionally in team meetings, to get the boys fired up and they do get fired up because of that," he said ahead of the semi-final in Mohali. "We are an emotional people, both countries. I don't think that the unity of the team, or where we have reached, it is not down to me. I don't want to take credit for that. When the team does well, 15 out of 15 do well and that is when you get a proper unit. All the credit I will give to the 15 guys, the seniors, our management, our coaches, they have made all the effort."

It was a good appearance ahead of the game, full of humour, bonhomie, wisecracks and digs; Afridi in a good, relaxed mood, comfortable as captain of Pakistan. To follow him through Sri Lanka and Dhaka has been to humanise him, an expressive man given to moods, but a naturally charismatic presence in any gathering. Over the last month and more, he has also been surprisingly focused, surprising given his generally short attention spans.

But in every sense, come what may on Wednesday, Afridi has been a true leader of men, with them on bad days and good days, taking them ultimately to a place few expected them to reach.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 13 
Posted by   on (April 1, 2011, 16:49 GMT)

I have a feeling that Afridi has played his role post match very cleverly. He apologised to the Pakistani people, and shook hands gracefully with the Indian players. Poor Misbah got all the flak from everyone, but Afridi , the captain got away with all the praises, inspite of performing very poorly. He neither bowled well, not could he retain his wicket in batting, and perished with a most irresponible shot off Bhajji, yet managed to capture everyone's hearts! Afridi better actor than a player? :))

Posted by   on (March 30, 2011, 20:36 GMT)

A Terrific Leader, Brilliant Bowler and easily the best fieldsman in the history of Pakistan Cricket - which sets a standard which others in the team should make it their duty to follow. If only he could have been more circumspect and level-headed with his batting.....

Posted by Longmemory on (March 30, 2011, 4:30 GMT)

Of the entire present lot of Pak cricketers, the one guy who inspires genuine fear in India is Afridi. If he gets his eye in and bats even for 5 overs, the match is as good as gone. I don't think his skiddy spinners will trouble the Indian top order too much but his batting (esp against India) is another thing altogether. We're also seeing another side of him in this tournament that is special - he is able to keep all this in perspective and remind us that its still a game, meant to be enjoyed, and that winning and losing are both part of it.

Posted by Zahidsaltin on (March 30, 2011, 0:28 GMT)

I would prefer Pakistan to be runners up in this worldcup because I am afraid if Afridi lifts the cup then he might announce his retirement. BUT on the other hand I feel it's written in our destiny that each and every Pathan captain of this team is made to win a cup.

Posted by TeamSelector on (March 29, 2011, 23:58 GMT)

Pakistan should play Akhtar & Ajmal ....... & leave out Wahab & Rehman. Shoaib has the experience, while Saeed has more variations. Akhtar can open the bowling with Gul, & then Ajmal can bowl at the death with Gul also. But more importantly, it is imperative that Razzak bats at #6. At that position, he can be the transition between the calm of Younis & Misbah ..... & the fireworks of Umar Akmal & Afridi. It also gives him time to play himself in & really go berserk at the end. Here's my lineup:- 1-Kamran, 2-Hafeez, 3-Asad Shafiq, 4-Younis, 5-Misbah, 6-Razzak, 7-Umar Akmal, 8-Afridi, 9-Gul, 10-Akhtar, 11-Ajmal.

Posted by mahfari on (March 29, 2011, 23:07 GMT)

Let Afridi, unleash himself!

Posted by Q72941 on (March 29, 2011, 22:57 GMT)

No body ever thought of him attaining the height as a skipper in world cricket. He definitely has shown the leadership to get where the team has gotten. Best of Luck.

Posted by cricket_fan_1980 on (March 29, 2011, 20:59 GMT)

Afridi you have your earned your place as an absolute legend of cricket. there will never be another like you.

Posted by shakkw on (March 29, 2011, 19:31 GMT)

Who cares about Chappel? Here we are in Semis! God Bless Afridi and his Men!

Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 19:28 GMT)

Hail Boom Boom Afridi!! He is a masterclass in his own!!

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Osman SamiuddinClose
Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.

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