Pak v WI, Champions Trophy, Group A, Wanderers September 22, 2009

Boom Boom trades noise for effect

34

Just when did Shahid Afridi grow up? It's tempting to narrow the answer down to a few days in mid-June, when Pakistan's Super Eight campaign at the ICC World Twenty20 reached the edge of the precipice. After defeat against Sri Lanka, the situation was simple enough. The next loss would be their last, the signal for the players to pack their bags and head home for the summer.

Afridi's lack of form with the bat was symptomatic of the team's woes. In the warm-up game against India, watched by a full house at The Oval, Afridi walked out with Pakistan in big trouble at 45 for 3. A bit of circumspection would have helped but as soon as you saw the ball in Irfan Pathan's hand you could almost sense what would transpire next. The two men have a history, to put it mildly, and when Irfan bowled one full and a touch wide, Afridi reacted with a wild flail. Had the bat connected cleanly, the ball would have cleared the rope by a distance but instead it flew off the edge to MS Dhoni's right behind the stumps. The latest installment of the Pathan v Pathan clash of egos had gone the way of the younger one from Vadodara.

Afridi's dismal run with the bat continued right through to the Sri Lanka game in the Super Eights, and when he chipped in with perky cameos against New Zealand and Ireland it was convenient to disregard them given that neither team really gave Pakistan a game. South Africa were up next, in the semi-final at Trent Bridge, and on the walk to the ground it was noticeable just how many wore Pakistan jerseys with his name on it. Perform or perish, Afridi has thrilled fans' hearts like few others.

Even then, there was more than a mild buzz of surprise when he walked out after just eight balls, at No. 3. Wayne Parnell and Dale Steyn had come into the game with rave reviews, and many regarded it as an unnecessarily foolhardy risk. And so we waited, for the impetuous hoick or the wild heave that would lead to sage nods and raised eyebrows. This was Afridi after all.

The wait was a long one. Afridi batted 46 minutes and faced 34 balls for his 51 before JP Duminy's part-time spin did for South Africa what Afridi had so often done for Pakistan. Someone who hadn't watched the game would have been entitled to ask: So, how many sixes did he whack? The answer was none. There were eight fours, but not one swipe out of the ground. This was controlled aggression, calculated menace, the sort of innings Inzamam-ul-Haq might have played.

Now, three months on, Afridi leads the side, with Younis Khan nursing a hairline fracture on the little finger of his right hand. How had he changed, he was asked, from the teenager who spanked a 37-ball century to this senior-statesman version entrusted with shepherding a young and exciting side? "I have a beard now," he said with a laugh. "I also have a wife and children. Responsibility has matured me. I still enjoy cricket but I try and avoid the reckless strokeplay now.

"There's been good and bad, wins and losses, smiles and cries, more the latter for me. It's a struggle, similar to what life is like. I'm enjoying it and I will as long as I play. It's an honour to be playing for Pakistan. To captain the team is a dream come true."

He remained quietly confident too that the Twenty20 heroics could be translated to the 50-over arena. "We all know our strengths," he said. "Not only are we strong in batting, but bowling as well. It's a balanced team. But I never take any team lightly any time, especially when it's the first match of the tournament. We're 11 playing against 11. We're equal in that sense. We can't think that we will win easily."

The self-belief and motivation that he spoke of will be most tested on Saturday, when they renew acquaintance with India. "I enjoy playing India the most," he said, another smile flashing across his face. Having tormented India in both Tests and one-dayers [Chennai 1999 and Kanpur 2005 readily come to mind], he certainly won't hold back no matter how high the stakes. "They've just been lucky to win in the ICC events," he said. "Winning and losing is part of the game. All I ask from the team is for everyone to give their 100%. I'll be content even if we lose. If you lose after fighting, even the followers don't mind that."

By then, Mohammad Asif will also be available for selection after serving a one-year ban. "It's good for Pakistan, his comeback," Intikhab Alam, the coach, said. "The type of bowler he is, it'll be a challenge for him. He's a matchwinner and has that kind of ability. We're all looking forward to having him back."

Regardless of whether Asif plays against West Indies, most eyes will be on the man the supporters would happily follow as though he was the Pied Piper of Hamelin. From enfant terrible to experienced hand and now leader of the pack, it's been quite a journey, with huge crests and equally scary troughs. "I hope to come up to expectations," he said. "I already captained in Sri Lanka [in the Twenty20], with success and I've been backed by the players. It's a really important match and I'll try and instill the winning mentality into the players."

Those who adore him call him Boom Boom. The explosions seem a little more calculated these days, and there's a look in the eye which suggests that he may not go bust as casually as he once did. That 51 in the Twenty20 semi was followed by an equally responsible half-century in the final. Having taken his own sweet time to mature, Afridi seems to be loving this adult lark.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rajesh on September 26, 2009, 15:58 GMT

    Guys- Afridi's innings today should give the entire world an idea whether he has grown up or not- throught the innings most of us would have got sick and tired of the commentators saying that " there is Afridi still to come". He came and went like a flash- that is how he has been all his career. Let this innings settle once and for one the debate whether he has grown up or whether he will grow up at all

  • mohammad khurram on September 23, 2009, 17:49 GMT

    although i am a pakistani but as a genuine cricket fan i must say that Afridi is a below average cricketer turned avg "performer". you should not and must not play that much cricket for your 7,8 meaty performances. i second the opinion that had he not been a pakistani cricketer, he wouldnt have played that much. if anybody think of him being a great cricketer, plz check his career, last five years or even last years stats. if there is any big/notable improvement, plz let all of us know.

  • Mohamed on September 23, 2009, 16:57 GMT

    Afridi is an exciting player. Yes, he has in the past let his emotions get the better of him, however it seems as if he has finally learned how to use his brain at the crease. There are some people who perform better or mature faster when given responsibility. Maybe Afridi is one of those. Afridi hot and cold career is a reflection of what Pak has been since the likes of Wasim and Waqar left the team. They could beat the living hell out of the best team one day and lose to a 2nd class team the next day. With them, there is always a certain uncertainity and their fans are always on the edge, knowing fully well that 200 with out loss could become 230 all out or 75 for 5 could easily become 300 for 7. Pakistan is Afridi and Afridi is Pakistan. Expect the unexpected. Be entertained and just remember that this is only a game..right?

  • sohrab on September 23, 2009, 16:30 GMT

    its really amusing reading all the comments of the indian crowd...from the looks of it i would say they have something really bothering them about afridi...i guess the numerous spanking jobs...and mr. cricket anayst davesh if afridi gets 56% of his scores against india under 20, then that is perfectly fine...he wins the other 44% for us...get a life all you haters. afridi is a good one day international player to say the least...he fields well, contributes with the bowling and is a bet worth taking with his batting. its as simple as that.

  • Roomi on September 23, 2009, 14:49 GMT

    Afridi is no Virender Sehwag but is a huge player and has a big impact on the game by his sheer presence and is someone versatlie enough to even open the batting. Critics dimiss him as 20-20 player but only in 26 test he averaged 37 and has five test hundereds when most Pakistani openers since Saeed Anwer have struggled to achieve even that. Now with his bowling coming of age he is a genuine allrounder and with a temperament for the big match. 20-20 is made for a player like him but if u see his first International innings on you tube you see his techinique. There was no slogging in that innings on his way to quickest ever hundered. Slogging came later perhaps by the burden of huge expectations around him. The game is richer for having a shahid Afridi in it.

  • Allan on September 23, 2009, 13:21 GMT

    Sorry Afridi is not an All Time Great (ATG) in my opinion. Pakistani cricketers like Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis can qualify to be All Time Greats. Afridi has very few memorable innings to his credit. One of them would be a 100 of 37 balls which still qualifies as the fastest ODI century. The author mentioned the century against India at Chennai in 1999, which in my opinion, would constitute Afridi's finest knock in Test cricket. Also the hurricane-like ODI century against India in 2005. Yes, he did display a lot of maturity in his T20 knocks against South Africa and Sri Lanka in the T20 WC semi-final and finals respectively. But how long will that display of maturity continue?

  • rugby on September 23, 2009, 12:49 GMT

    he isnt as good as he is made to be.he is all noise and no action

  • Vidyabhushan on September 23, 2009, 12:36 GMT

    I seriously hope Afridi grows up. It felt sad to see such a talent go wasted. He could have won so many more matches for Pakistan if he had become a bit more responsible. Neverthless, he is relatively young and if he means what he says, then I guess Pakistan cricket would get better. Infact Pakistan cricket is synonymous with Afridi - are world beaters one day and make a fool of themselves the next, except that the latter happens more too often. I'm an Indian but I still love his stagger and confidence! All the best and hope you do well..

  • Vijay on September 23, 2009, 12:23 GMT

    Pakistan for long, their captain, Afridi, and all others have been talking about the game against India in the CT and saying they can definitely beat India this occasion. I just cannot wait to see Saturday's match. I as an Indian I knew very well, even India at their worst form can beat Pakistan in a Major Tournament, ex 1999 World Cup. Now India is ranked number 1 side in the world and will definitely have the edge, but Pakistan can be terrific or terrible on any given day. I think this Saturday will be the Super Saturday that world cricket needs. Cheers.

  • Syed on September 23, 2009, 12:12 GMT

    Main quality of Afridi is his confidence and ability to look in the eye of opposition. This quality is slowly disappearing from Pakistani team. If it wasn't for this he wouldn't have made this far. He has also shown that when trusted he usually contributes some how. I think as a captain he will give flexibility to his players to be more creative and 'playing their game' and would also help him control his own recklessness.

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