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Match Analysis

Shaheen Shah Afridi finds a way to prosper at Galle

In a country he has never played in before, on a surface where only the very best quicks prosper, he bowled like one

Shaheen Shah Afridi struck in his second over, finding a way through Dimuth Karunaratne's defences  •  AFP/Getty Images

Shaheen Shah Afridi struck in his second over, finding a way through Dimuth Karunaratne's defences  •  AFP/Getty Images

It isn't box office. Right-handers poking down an off stump line, sending an edge into the cordon. Lefties getting cut in half, then rapped on the pads by one that snaps back at them from a length. New batters hopping at the crease. Hooping yorkers that leave the stumps splayed.
Sure, it's still Shaheen Shah Afridi, with the ball. He is running in like the local head honcho rushing to settle a neighbourhood fight.
But this isn't his backyard, and this is not a pitch made for him. In the first few overs, there are the merest wisps of movement off the track. Then it disappears, and while you wait for the reverse to kick in, which it never does today, it's up to the gods. (At Galle, this means it's up to the spinners.)
But Afridi, who does not have 100 wickets to his name yet, is essentially the leader of this attack that has even less experienced pair of quicks in the side and a senior spinner playing his comeback game. In a country he has never played in before, on a surface where only the very best quicks prosper, and even then only occasionally, he bowls like one.
Through most of Afridi's spells on day one, the man uses angles. He is close to the stumps to the left-hander one ball, sending one in the channel. Two balls later he is cutting the return crease with his front foot, angling the ball back in. Ideally, he will get one to cut back in off the seam, but listen, this is Galle. This pitch does not start as dry as the strip for the first Test against Australia, but it's not miles off. If you are looking for natural moisture, the ocean is 150 metres away. There is not much to be found closer than that.
Angling the ball from wide gets him his first, and if you are going to get a wicket against this top order, well, this is the one. Sri Lanka can do alright when Dimuth Karunaratne doesn't score runs, but the general trend has been that if he fails, they ain't headed to a big score. Twice, coming in from wide of the crease, Afridi gets Karunaratne to inside-edge. The first ricochets into his pads. The second into off stump.
He had conceded two boundaries in the first over of the day, but one of the next four is a maiden, and he concedes just 13 off those. Not stellar numbers, but this is Galle. Staying on for five overs as a quick is testing enough. The next spell is better. He goes full to Dhananjaya de Silva, perhaps looking for that reverse. He bowls a maiden to this batter, then two more dot balls, until eventually, de Silva has had enough. He tries to put a full delivery through cover, but the shot is loose, and another one comes back off the inside edge.
No magic balls. The scorecard says "b Afridi", but this isn't one that'll do numbers on YouTube. Later, at the end of the day, Afridi himself describes it this way: "With that one, I was very lucky. I just bowled the ball wider and I think he got out."
If that description made you sleepy, then Afridi's next few lines will finish the job.
"I am just trying to bowl my lines and lengths."
"The wicket is slow and the spinners will bowl well here."
"I am also trying to bowl well."
Thankfully, the next wicket is a little more exciting. Niroshan Dickwella leans into a drive, and the ball - oh wow, look at that - does it seam away? You need the James Webb telescope to spot it, but finally, a catch is taken at gully, and there's a big celebration - a wicket worthy of the Afridi of the imagination.
Then, of course, he gets hit around by some tailenders with averages belying how easily they seem to be playing the quicks. Don't take it personally. We are where we are, and this is just the kind of thing that happens here.
A bouncer gets him his last wicket. A No. 10 tries to uppercut him over the cordon, and the universe decides that is a humiliation too far, even for this venue. Among Pakistan seamers, only Waqar Younis has better innings figures here than Afridi's 4 for 58 (Waqar had 4 for 40, way back in 2000). Pakistan have played five previous Tests here. Even the stats aren't that fancy.
Whether Pakistan squander the position or not Afridi and Co put them in, who is to say? Prabath Jayasuriya already seems to be making the ball rip from the fort end.
Should Jayasuriya, a left-arm spinner playing his second Test, get to make an appearance in the final sentences of a piece that outlines how good Shaheen Shah Afridi was? Look, it can't be helped. This is just the kind of thing that happens here.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf