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Feature

Afridi the beautiful freak completes his nonsensical career

Shahid Afridi's maiden T20 century has arrived, more than two decades after his stunning first coming into cricket's big time

Shahid Afridi is coming out to open the batting, and it's a beautiful day. Quite why he's got his pads on already, I don't know. So far this season, he has been overlooked when he should have been asked to bat, he was dropped (or at best rotated out) for another fixture, and all season long, he has only made 50 runs off 52 balls. That's less than a run a ball. Afridi doesn't do less than a run a ball in a nightmare.
And here he is out in the middle, like a tickle-me-Elmo come to life, ready to face Wayne Madsen. Madsen has been a first-over banker for Derbyshire, his cunning little offspinners, frugal and occasionally wicket-taking. His last five first overs have gone at 5.2 runs per over and have yielded two wickets.
This is a data-centric, modern T20 pinch-hitting hunch at Hampshire. If they start with Madsen, we'll send out our golden Furby, Afridi. Gary Wilson doesn't blink as Derbyshire's captain; he backs his man Madsen. Afridi is straight at him, smacking the first ball to midwicket with saliva dripping from his mouth. Next ball he gets inside the line and swings into a sweep, before a mow through long-off and another slog over mid-off. Sixteen runs from the over. For Madsen, this is hardcore.
But the quick is at the other end, Hardus Viljoen. Once upon a time, Afridi wouldn't have worried, but Viljoen is bowling at over 92 miles an hour. This looks dangerous. Afridi doesn't even get on strike. Instead he faces Ben Cotton, Madsen's replacement. Madsen is darker than a mood ring gone black, and like mood rings, we won't see him again.
Afridi spends another Viljoen over trying to make sure he doesn't face much of it, then faces Cotton again. He slaps one over long-on for six, and then follows that up by landing one on the media centre roof. No diggity.
Viljoen stays on for one last over; you know why. Afridi, much like the aliens in Independence Day, had to be stopped, even if you had to fly your fast bowler into the belly of the beast. Afridi doesn't care now; this is the last Powerplay over, he just swings. He mishits and should be caught, he isn't. He mishits and should be caught, he isn't. And then he mis-hits and should be caught, but he isn't. He takes ten runs in lucky mis-hits. I don't know how he's getting away with it; it's like some sort of CIA conspiracy that can only be unravelled by a smoking guy. But it's too much fun to care.
The Powerplay is over, Hampshire have 71 runs, Afridi is 45 off 18. This is when T20 matches slow down, but this is Afridi, this will keep going or come to a glorious end. Put out your ramblers, Derby, let's get rambling.
Matt Henry comes on, he decides to bowl short to Afridi, but who cares, he just swings, a top-edge flies over his head and into the crowd. Henry pitches up and Afridi hits him over cover for six. Matt, what's your favourite scary movie?
Afridi is now stealing the strike; this was Derby's big day but it's his now. He is bigger than Britpop. Imran Tahir comes on; these two have been playing cricket against one other since the last century. Afridi puts him into the Derby Pentagon, Tahir looks about as cool as a girl with a Rachel-cut wearing a scrunchie. But then Afridi clumps one straight to mid-on. Madsen is waiting, he can unbreak his heart. The ball bounces in front of him for a second before hitting the turf.
Afridi is still coming down the wicket to have those really intense mid-over chats. What on earth does he discuss? "Some say the end is near. Some say we'll see armageddon soon", or "I'm gonna try smack every ball for six, please get me back on strike". At one point, the bails are whipped off by the keeper, Afridi runs off to retrieve them, he just wants to hit the ball. There is a three dot-ball pause from Afridi, like the slow bit in a grunge song, before he smashes one onto a car windscreen from, who cares, just some bowler.
Viljoen comes back on, but he unleashes a beamer and it's heading for the head of Afridi. For a second, Afridi does that thing where he's too excited to look in one direction, before holding his hand up at Viljoen, and then walking up to him and having a hug. It's like the scene where they start slapping each other before kissing in The English Patient. Except, next ball, Afridi is violently smacking a freehit four.
And then, as if it was meant to be, against the guy who knew him back in 1996 when he set the world alight in Kenya, Imran Tahir is bowling to Afridi and gets hit for six, and then is cut away for a four. It's his hundred, after 2.4 billion T20 games, his first. Five balls slower than that magic day in Kenya 7627 days ago. All night, it's been like this retro flashback, and Afridi even poses like it's the old days. As he stands there, adoring his own work, wanting the world to adore him, you can't help but ask, could you be any more Shahid Afridi?
Oh, the beautiful people, the beautiful people, it's all relative to the size of your steeple. Hey you, what do ya see? Something beautiful or something free? You magnificent creature of madness. You bizarre wonderboy. It doesn't matter that you are out while not looking at a short ball that you are trying to slog away, in fact, that makes it better. Forget the data, the form, the everything, just swing, you beautiful freak. Everything is right in the world, I have travelled back in time to the golden days of Shahid Afridi, the man who will not age.
Shahid, there is nothing left to say, I love you. You, you complete me.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber