There are days when Shahid Afridi may look a little foolish. One time in Australia when, feeling a Rana Naved spell was not incisive enough, Afridi introduced his incisors to the situation. Other periods in Pakistan's recent history have featured an "Afridi slog reception area", otherwise known as the leg side. And in gesticulating animatedly at his own team-mates, there has surely been none better. Recently in New Zealand, Umar Gul looked like he was being yelled at by Afridi. Gul had just taken a wicket.
Afridi's other days, though, are different. These are days when he turns the tables on the rest of us. Those who have been making a fool of him, are made instead by him to look foolish. As he smoked 49 off 19 against Bangladesh, and claimed figures of 2 for 27 at Eden Gardens, Wednesday was one such day.
It has been a week in which he has been under the microscope. Afridi had made a habit of not turning up to Pakistan's training sessions in recent weeks. He had also had to stave away a challenge to his captaincy, ahead of the tournament.
His recent innings had produced scores such as 0 from 2 balls, and 7 from 3. In a way, these contributions are almost typical enough to define him. So much so, that if he ever releases a fragrance, one of these knocks could give the perfume its name. Who would resist a bottle? 7(3) by Afridi.
Yet, there he stood at the pitch, intent unbowed by the criticism. He swung as he often does, from the first ball, and today, he hit them to the fence. Pakistan were already well set, but his innings upgraded their total from commanding to colossal. He played out fewer dot balls than he struck sixes. When his team were in the field, they appeared lively and united. The bowling changes were sensible, and the field placements apt.
Conventional wisdom suggests missing practice does your game ill. Afridi hoicks saliva in the face of such wisdom like he hoicks short balls over the long on fence. Normal folk would insist that captains keep their cool, and set an example when it comes to commitment, but Afridi's universe is governed by different rules.
So many of his flaws seem also to be his strengths, and vice versa. To say Afridi had a brain explosion seems redundant, because isn't his brain in a perpetual state of explosion? The trick is to point the explosions in a productive direction - like the blasts near the piston of a car engine. Though, you may not want to ride in a vehicle built like Afridi's brain. Sure, it would go from 0-100 kph in three seconds, but would most often reach those speeds as it plunges into ravines.
"Conventional wisdom suggests missing practice does your game ill. Afridi hoicks saliva in the face of such wisdom like he hoicks short balls over the long on fence"
And to call his hitting agricultural would be… no… actually that is fair. Today, he went on one knee to wallop Shakib Al Hasan into the stands beyond long on. The bat swing extravagant, the scythe long and low, he was more harvesting the ball, than hitting it. Like any farmer, Afridi's career has been defined by seasons of famine and plenty. When you have cracked a 37-ball hundred in your first international innings, was it ever going to be another way?
"It's great to see someone who was under pressure from the media and people, to come up with that strong performance," Mohammad Hafeez said of Afridi after the game. "That shows the character he's got. It's always pleasing to see him come up and play shots everywhere. Fans love it, and we love it as a team. We know that he can take the game away from the opposition. It's great to see him coming to form with the ball also."
Afridi tells us this World T20 is his final foray in international cricket. It may be three weeks full of emotion if so, because for over 20 years, Afridi has been more than a player; he has been almost an elemental cricketing force - largely unchanged himself, but a catalyst in the transformation of the limited-overs game.
Perhaps there will be glowing tributes, from players and writers. Maybe the PCB will present him a memento upon his return to Pakistan. Fans may reminisce about his greatest innings, and shed a quiet, nostalgic tear. And then, after all that, it is entirely possible that he will un-retire, play for another half-decade, and make fools of us all over again.