Tanya Aldred lives in Manchester. She writes occasionally for the Guardian
T20I Tri-Series (1)
IND v SA (1)
Asia Cup (2)
WI-W v NZ-W (1)
AUS v WI (1)
At Old Trafford last Wednesday, Lancashire were playing Nottinghamshire in the Twenty20. The ground was smart - the proud red Point squatting robustly to the right of the pavilion, defying its detractors; the hanging baskets settling over the dressing rooms, pinks and purples and as lovely as ever.
The clouds were lurking like a pair of heavy grey drapes, but they hadn't drawn fully. There was life in the game, life in the competition. Lancashire had yet to qualify for the quarter-finals, Nottinghamshire were looking for a win to ensure that they got a home game in the next round.
But there was something missing. A summer's evening at half-past five: where was everybody? Where was le atmosphere? Twenty20 can't be dying a pre-pubescent death - not now, not yet. Perhaps a little shake-up is all it needs. How about:
Dress the players all in white and remove names from their backs to add the element of surprise. Switch off all music, with particular reference to House of Pain, so that the sounds of the crowd and the local environment can be heard - the seagulls of Hove, the trams of Old Trafford, the sea at Scarborough, the crisps at Derby. Send the players back to the dressing rooms and chuck out the dugouts. Take away all the microphones and the big screen. Replace electric scoreboards with those with the heavy metal numbers that are slightly worn and creak in the wind. Replace helmets with caps (and all caps to be made from cloth rather than canvas). Remove kids' zones and replace them with old-fashioned nets or second-hand-book stalls. Ban the wearing of any larger-than-life-sized animal costumes. Rip up flags. Switch off floodlights - natural lighting/gloom only. Balls to be red, attitude to be gritty, games to be measured, umpires to be dour. Do you think it might catch on?
Alas, not for Shahid Afridi. For him, it turns out, Twenty20 really is the one. In a fit of honesty that a few politicians might like to emulate, he settled into the TMS studio and announced that he didn't have the patience for the five-day game. "My temperament is not good enough for Test cricket. The team need a proper batsman and a proper bowler." His stint as Test captain had lasted precisely one match. And, incidentally, ended in defeat.
He had been, at Lord's, an absolute treat for 20 minutes. As soon as he charged out of the pavilion on the Wednesday afternoon, the crowd sat up, put down their papers and stayed their chat. Keith Miller-esque, said my father-in-law, who sat in the Tavern and ate pork pies with my dad. There was a flick for six over midwicket; a straight drive over long-off for another six that Afridi was so thrilled with that he tried to repeat it, only to be completely conned by a slower ball from Shane Watson. The second innings was sadder, just a slog straight to the waiting Mike Hussey and a suddenly hangdog walk back to the pavilion, for, it turned out, the last time in a Test.
He has been rhapsodised over, by Geoff Boycott amongst others. His Test averages (36 with the bat, 35 with the ball) compare well to those who have more high-falutin' claims. He is a thrill in a fairly flat field of performers, a swaggerer, a chancer, a hasty but wonderful cocktail with a cherry on top. His locks are Samsonian, his beard for business. Test cricket may have lost him but limited-overs should keep him busy for a bit. Let's hope so. If ever a cricketer has been delicious, it is Afridi.