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Comment

Rohit ball or Rahul ball: which Shaheen Afridi dismissal was better?

The answer is the one everyone, including the batter, knew was coming

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
29-Oct-2021
This one?  •  Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

This one?  •  Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

It's possible that in time to come this becomes an ideological question. Not nearly as consequential as "Are you with us or against us?" That is, it's never going to start wars. But let's say it gets to the level of knowing which of Wasim or Waqar (the answer is obvious, but humans have free will, so whatever); Federer or Nadal (ditto); Messi or Ronaldo (you need to ask?); straight or curly (pass); Connery or Craig (if you have a pulse, you know). Lines will be drawn, arguments will get heated, there'll be snarky subtweets and cutting TikTok videos. These things do matter because the answer will inevitably reveal something of who you are.
The question is this: Rohit Sharma or KL Rahul? That is, which of the Shaheen Afridi deliveries that dismissed India's openers in Dubai is your poison? You might think this is indulgent, an unnecessary focusing on the trivialities. This was, after all, Pakistan's first win in forever over India in a World Cup. That result is, literally, a moment of history.
And the details of Afridi's performance might, for many, be submerged by the broader arc of his rise. Two years ago, when these two sides last played at the 50-over World Cup, he didn't even make the starting XI. In the time since, he has emerged as the kind of bowler you make a point of watching; by going to a stadium, by switching the channel, by scouring through illegal streams, by scrolling down feeds and hearting and retweeting clips. He's the kind of talent franchises want, the kind of talent a team (run by a functional board) with Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan also in it looks at and thinks: we have a strong core here.
All of this deserves far deeper consideration.
But also, wasting time over this kind of thing sits at the very heart of the Pakistan cricket experience. To get caught up in the aesthetics of moments such as this, to amplify the joy from it so much that it drowns out everything else around it, including, when needed, despair; this is why it matters.
It is why Shoaib Akhtar's ball to Adam Gilchrist in Colombo matters more than the result in Colombo; why the Karachi win over India is secondary to Mohammad Asif's Karachi wickets of (take your pick); why even the nuclear wasteland of the summer of 2010 contains a green, verdant garden of Amir-Asif deliveries for Pakistanis to permanently promenade through.
You give yourself whole to the moment and avoid for as long as you can - and at any opportunity thereafter - what that moment might mean, whether it might mean anything at all, or what the value of that moment might be to the final outcome.
The moment is the thing, not what happened after, before, or because of it, and sometimes - most times - the only thing to do is pore over it for as long as human nature allows. Perhaps it's the natural instinct for survival kicking in, a crutch to cling to as life becomes too real.
Pakistan could well have lost against India, and I suspect this question, about which of the Afridi deliveries was better, would still feel as urgent. That is the beast.
I'll begin by dismissing, with due appreciation, the one that wasn't for me. The ball to Rahul was a great delivery. It had everything going for it too: the pace, the movement, a length that was far from full but still behaved and did things like a really full ball would. Hawk-Eye data said that of Afridi's deliveries for which data is available, he had only ever swung nine deliveries more than he did this one. It swung, then seamed and then seemed to swing again in its second flight after pitching.
It was pretty clear from first viewing what happened. It pitched, it swung, it went straight through. That is deliberately stripped down, of course, like saying Picasso painted or Shakespeare wrote
And though Rahul's bat ends up shaping to play to leg, at the moment he is beaten, he is showing it the full face. It slips through a sliver of a gap, maybe off a thin inside edge, maybe pad, maybe both. In any case, this is T20 batting and whether he was playing straight or to leg doesn't really apply. Rahul is currently in red-hot form and so, better placed to make decisions on how to play such a delivery than most. On any other day, in any other spell, this is the ball. I don't doubt this.
But one of the things about it was that it was pretty clear from first viewing what happened. It pitched, it swung, it went straight through. That is deliberately stripped down, of course, like saying Picasso painted or Shakespeare wrote. But we now live in a post-Waz age, in a world with Trent Boult, and in this world even Neil Wagner swings a mean ball into the right-hander. We're used to that kind of shape, if not always the occasion on which it is produced.
Me? I like a bit of mystery, a little reveal at the end that you have to work to get to. Something that does not immediately stand to attention. Something that only replays, slowed right down, wrung through endless pauses and plays, show. Which is what happened with the yorker to Rohit.
Maybe it was because it was so early and we were all getting our eyes attuned to the action, wherever we were, but in the moment it struck it wasn't clear what had happened. Other than that Rohit had been defeated and that it must be out, because Nasser Hussain's reaction said it: "Oooh, gone, surely gone, yes!" And Afridi is celebrating and then looking the long way round over his right shoulder to appeal to the umpire because he's already off to do the Starman. There's a lot happening to take in already.
This one needed a replay because in the first instance the ball looked like it just went straight and while straight balls can be great balls, they are, ultimately, straight balls. Except when they're not, as this one wasn't.
Afridi got this yorker to swing so late, it's worth asking whether it was swing at all. All the way through, until it runs out of air and hits land, it's striving and striving and shaping to swing. Then, on landing, it does whatever it was trying to do, swing or seam, or both - I also love that it's impossible to definitively say.
The way Rohit overbalanced, only two explanations seemed likely: that Afridi had found reverse from a ball that was three balls old, or that this was Lasith Malinga dressed up as Afridi, on stilts, and bowling with his left arm for the giggles. Frankly, I'm not sure which one makes less sense.
This was Dubai. This was a white ball and white balls pass through wind tunnels without swinging, let alone swing this late. The instinctive reference to how late it did anything might be the Akram magic ball to Robert Croft that didn't get him a wicket - that, of course, went the other way, but when it goes this late, it doesn't matter which way it goes, only that it does. There's basically no way Rohit, or any batter, can play that as the first ball they face. The only hope is that the bowler gets it slightly wrong. Which Afridi doesn't - that is the genius. He very rarely does.
Somewhere I'm sure there's a Reddit thread stuffed with examples that prove bowled to be a superior mode of dismissal to the leg-before. It is. Nothing signals a bowler's victory as much as a bowled - clean, without help from an inside edge or pad. Ordinarily, between two great dismissals, I'd pick the one that was bowled. But this was so plumb that if there was any thought of a review, it was swiftly put aside. DRS has challenged the way we recognise plumb lbws. Batters challenge more often - and correctly - than ever before. But this was so plumb, so beaten, there was little thought or discussion given to reviewing it. It equates, essentially, to getting bowled.
Finally, what elevates the Rohit ball is the age we live in. The ball to Rahul was, in the sense that Afridi had to produce something of a magnitude that he hadn't before, a freak delivery. In terms of everything about it being perfect, nobody could have seen it coming, or at least not to the degree to which it was perfect.
But there cannot have been a person alive with skin in this game who did not know what Afridi was going to bowl to Rohit in that first over. Afridi knew it. Rohit knew it. Babar Azam knew it. Virat Kohli knew it. Nasser Hussain knew it. You knew it. I knew it. We can't not have known it, we're so bombarded by information and knowledge. Everyone can know everything today. Everyone did know everything, and yet, here is this delivery that we knew was coming, which, in the exact moment it happens, makes us feel forever like we had no idea it was coming. It's not the miracle of birth, I'll agree, but it's not something you're going to forget either.
This was a proper statement: Afridi telling Rohit that he knew Rohit knew what he was going to do but that, one, he was good enough to execute it, and two, it would be good enough to do for Rohit. This was Afridi making all that knowledge redundant, yet at the same time bringing us enlightenment.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo