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Tanya's Take

Sixteen again

In which Shahid Afridi rediscovers his old self

Tanya Aldred
Tanya Aldred
Shahid Afridi stands tall, Pakistan v South Africa, ICC World Twenty20, 1st semi-final, Trent Bridge, June 18, 2009

Shiny hair and all: Afridi is back and how  •  AFP

If Twenty20 is a one-act play, what a one-act play! The game fizzed and turned and flipped like an MP with a very good accountant. The players played their parts to perfection, the crowd was as raucous as the orange-throwing mob at any restoration comedy, and from the wings of Trent Bridge emerged Shahid Afridi, to put in the sort of batting performance he was thrown upon this earth to do.
Afridi isn't here to score 10 off 30 balls, nor bowl four overs of military medium - the man is from Peshawar, not Pirbright. And yet, and yet it wasn't supposed to be his day. Performances so far in this tournament suggested that his swashbuckle was gone, that his main tools now were a wing, a prayer, and his bowling.
We were wrong. He dispatched Jacques Kallis, paused for breath, then hit four fours in a row off Johan Botha - three huge hits over extra cover, one a delicate steer behind. Then he called for a new bat - the current one was apparently lacking a little je ne sais quoi.
Suddenly the years and stresses fell away - he was that carefree 16-year-old again, the one even Geoffrey Boycott fell in love with. The hair is still there, lustrous, like a badger with brylcreem. He is broader, too, though still lithe; and the beard gives his baby face some gravitas.
The crowd was buzzing, and South Africa were looking occasionally lummox-like in the field - Graeme Smith lumbered over a ball and even AB de Villiers fumbled.
Afridi fell for 51, off only 34 balls. But Pakistan faltered - in the last five overs, they didn't score a boundary.
It seemed too few. This was South Africa playing, this time, the final was their destiny. But Afridi hadn't finished. Younis Khan threw him the ball and all the variations were there, the tricks, the toys. How does that ball come out of the back of his hand so fast? When Herschelle Gibbs was bowled, the stadium erupted; when AB de Villiers played on, it threatened to shoot to the moon. With Umar Gul to come, Afridi had played his part to perfection. South Africa fatally slowed and were felled, again, choked by sensational bowling and a man born for the big stage.
The Twenty20 fairytale will be complete if Sri Lanka beat West Indies today. The final will then be played between two teams that know the truth of Keith Miller's phrase, "pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, playing cricket is not". Let it be the great final they deserve.

Tanya Aldred lives in Manchester. She writes occasionally for the Guardian