Game Changer May 16, 2019

It's always sunny in Lala land

Game Changer is a madcap, chaotic and often fact-free ride through the mind of Pakistan's most enigmatic allrounder

Things we learned from his book: Shahid "Age is just a number" Afridi cares little for numbers of any sort © AFP

Game Changer, Shahid Afridi's… well, what exactly? Memoir? Autobiography? Even a book at all? No, it's an experience: one isn't to read this as much as one is to experience it, and pass bits of it around on Whatsapp forwards. If that was the intention, then bravo, because one also didn't go to grounds to see Afridi play as much as to experience the world in his presence.

Accordingly, this is not a review so much as it is notes from the ride.

Do we know his real age?
Yes. No. Maybe.

Who should not read this book
Javed Miandad ("He lives in the past. His shadow is larger than himself. I feel it's the trait of a weak man." Ouch.) Gautam Gambhir, who also shouldn't read Paddy Upton's book. The PCB (there's no book in which they come out smelling of roses). Waqar Younis ("He was a mediocre captain but a terrible coach" - zing!). Politicians. Females. Salman Butt. Mohammad Yousuf (yeah, chapter 18, which starts with the midnight conference-revolt against Younis Khan's captaincy is about you, even if Afridi chooses to not name you).

Who should read this book
Shahid Afridi. He hasn't.

Who else has not read this book
A fact-checker. The age thing you know about - he tried to reveal his real age only to get the year of birth wrong (1977, not 1975, as he writes, or 1980, as we've all recorded). The rest include one that turns up even before the book begins, in Wasim Akram's foreword: one of Afridi's finest Test innings - the 141 in Chennai - becomes 144. The most famous six in Pakistan history is so famous everyone should know that it was struck in 1986, not 1987. And Salahuddin "Sallu" Ahmed - absolutely key through Afridi's career - a multiple-time selector and Pakistan offspinner is not Salahuddin Satti, who is a fairly significant army figure.

There are others - annoying, careless little errors, though equally you might say, it's very much in the spirit of Afridi to not sweat the details.

Shahid Afridi will join politics once he has (definitively) left the game
Not.

But
He loves politics. Also, he hates politics. Politicians are scum. Politics is a dirty business. He will never get into it.

Actually take his word for it: "I have no political ambitions." And in the very next sentence: "Actually that's not true. At the moment, I do not have political ambitions." Which means that at the moment you finish this sentence, he might. So, yeah, get ready to vote Lala.

Shahid Afridi loves
a) The Army
b) The Army
c) The Army

The Perfect Way to Retire, according to Shahid Afridi
Is to go how Sachin Tendulkar went. Like a hero, he won the World Cup on his home ground in 2011 and walked off into a golden Bandra sunset.

Except. He. Didn't.

PS: Does this explain why Afridi retires the way he does?

The anecdote you're not sure how to process
Afridi's playboy reputation in his younger years was legendary. Surprisingly, given his own transformation since, he gives us a little peek into that time. That time, for example, when a female fan turned up at his house in full bridal outfit, ready to marry him.

Or when he started up a little phone romance in the '90s (phone romances of the subcontinent in the '90s are worth a Netflix series) with this girl who had a beautiful voice. He spent a lot of money on his mobile phone, chatting to her. And then he wanted to meet her. And then he invited her to his house one Eid with his parents around ("like an arranged date!" he exults). And then she turned up with a bouquet of roses and then it turned out that she was a 15- or 16-year-old he who had heard that Afridi only speaks to girls on the phone and so had pretended all along to be a girl. And so Afridi invited him in for tea.

I loved it when Afridi started weighing up the true allrounder dilemma of whether hitting McGrath for six was better than clean-bowling Ponting
But then, within four sentences, he segued into telling us how he came to marry his wife. Which, don't get me wrong, is also love.

I really wanted Afridi to go deep into that Nairobi innings and how it developed
Instead: "I padded up. I went in. I stopped the first ball. Then I hit the second ball for six. After that I don't remember much about what unfolded."

On that near-reprise in Kanpur in 2005, the first time many people might have begun to comprehend how Nairobi happened (Nairobi wasn't actually broadcast in Pakistan): "I got a century in Kanpur and took the pressure off our bowlers."

As with the errors, it is actually - endearingly - Afridi to breeze through such monumental events as if they're boxes to tick. He has never been one to linger in the present, let alone the past.

Did he really say that?
The trick with ghostwritten autobiographies is to bring out an authenticity in the subject's voice but also to season it with some writerly chops. Simon Jones' (and Jon Hotten's) The Test is one of the best examples of the genre.

With Game Changer you often wonder where Afridi ends and the ghost, Wajahat S Khan, begins. For example, in talking about a night of partying ahead of a tri-series final in Australia in early 1997: "…do not party with your teammates the night before a big match. If you do, make sure you kick some ass the next day and win." Kick some ass? Even allowing for translation, it doesn't quite ring right.

In talking about Pakistan's record against India in World Cup matches, Afridi says it is "Pakistan's very own Curse of the Bambino, though I'm confident we won't take as long to break it as the Boston Red Sox did." Not only is the analogy not quite right, I'm inserting an eyes-rolling emoji here at Afridi knowing about the Curse.

The most controversial theory Afridi has
Tape-ball cricket helps batsmen and hurts fast bowling. My mind... it can't comprehend.

The weirdest analogy Afridi makes
By way of explaining army coups in Pakistan, Afridi says they only "step in" (ROFL, right?) once there is a vacuum created by the democrats. Just like when Inzamam-ul-Haq had to bowl a few overs in matches where the bowlers weren't doing their job.

In nearly 500 international matches, Inzi bowled in one Test innings and six ODIs. The army, on the other hand, has ruled Pakistan for pretty much half its existence.

Who needs the UN?
When Afridi can solve all the world's problems? In the last chapter, he brings solutions for Kashmir and Pakistan-India, the civil-military imbalance in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In an earlier chapter he's already sorted out the PCB: hire a foreigner, check; leave me in charge of the domestic system, not yet checked. On which note of optimism…

The End
"By the time this book is published, the Afghan peace process may have lead to something."

Thanks, Lala.

Game Changer
Shahid Afridi with Wajahat S Khan
Harper Collins
297 pages, Rs 437

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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