24 July, 2014 / Ramazan 25, 1435

The star and his fan

Published Mar 29, 2013 02:48pm

cricket, shahid afridi, pakistan cricket, afridi retirement
We shared our star sign and grew up in the same city but had never crossed path, in fact, had not even heard of each other. Then, one evening I was playing squash and I got the news that changed our lives forever; a 16 year old boy had scored a century in 37 balls and Pakistan had slung shot into the final of a quadrangular series in Kenya after rolling over Sri Lanka.

For some reason, the series was not televised live in Pakistan and I missed what should have been our first encounter on October 4, 1996. Wisden, my childhood bible was on Netscape Navigator by then and had reported sixes being hurled into the parking lot of Nairobi gymkhana that evening. I gave little heed and went back to playing Brian Lara Cricket ‘96.

Zimbabwe travelled to Pakistan later that month and the boy opened the innings with Saeed Anwar. He came across as a pinch hitter who perished early in the first game. However, Wasim Akram persisted with him as an opener in the second. He was dropped at naught but then showed his magic, scoring 66 of 37 balls including four towering sixes at Gaddafi Stadium. We were formally introduced, I became the fan and Shahid Khan Afridi became my hero.

Tall, and handsome, Afridi was a sensation from day one. Boys wanted to be like him and girls wanted to be with him. When he was batting, no one left the seat or switched channels, with him at the crease, anything was possible – but it was the disappointment that was inevitable.

No matter how many sixes he hit and runs he scored, the idiosyncrasy of his dismissals always gave a sense of unfulfilled potential, which reflects in his statistics over a 16-year career.

His batting seemed promising but the muscle in his arm usually over-powered the nerves in his head. He was brutal against medium pacers but suspect against faster men. If it was pitched up, it rocketed to the rope but often it was pitched short and he rushed to the pavilion instead.

Leg spin was never his forte, or for that matter, any kind of spin. His faster one was exciting but not enough to threaten. The highlights of his bowling were in his silky hair and mischievous smile.

He never became the boy who initially replaced Mushtaq Ahmed and he could never grow into the man that had replaced Aamir Sohail. To be fair, he did not need to, he already had a place in my life that others did not – he had become my favourite Pakistani cricketer.

He played his cricket outside the realm of the game itself and inside the hearts of his fans. All I wanted was a six and all he wanted was to hear me clap. We were both young and brash and nothing else mattered, not what the scoreboard said and definitely not what coach or captain advised.

It was difficult to judge if he was falling victim to my unconditional love or if he had started taking advantage of it. Like with most things grey, it was probably a mix of both. My applause had turned him deaf and he refused to hear me moan at his failure.

It was soon apparent that he did not have a place in the team but he managed to get selected anyway, his critics grew larger in number but his fans kept increasing as well. He continued to recklessly throw his wicket away but with his departure, stadiums also emptied out, it was the Shahid Afridi paradox.

Then came the summer of 2004 and I was fortunate to follow our team to Amstelveen. A day before the first game I caught up with the boys at Het Spectrum, a water park in Hoofddorp, 20 minutes from Amsterdam.

It was heartening to see how our new coach Bob Woolmer had combined leisure and training for his boys in a swimming pool. However, I was surprised to learn how highly he rated Afridi as a gifted all-rounder. In the previous year, Shahid had scored 21 runs at an average of 5.33 and taken three wickets at an average of 48. Clearly, Woolmer had no idea about cricket in Pakistan.

Next morning Afridi was out for 19 runs that included two fours and a six and Pakistan were bundled out for 192; in reply, India were all out for a 127. Afridi registered bowling figures of 4-20 and I made my first appearance on Wisden Cricinfo; a picture of a fan in a hat, storming the field of play with a Pakistani flag. We were fans reported of potentially putting Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly in danger of terrorist attacks.

Afridi typically went on to score at an average of 21.63 with a strike rate of 147.82 that year but he also remarkably took 22 wickets at an average of 20.27 and a strike rate of 26.3.

Improving his flippers and adding an orthodox off-spinner to his repertoire, eight years into his career, Afridi had suddenly transformed into a bowling all-rounder. Now, for the first time in his life he merited a place in the side for pure cricketing reasons.

Afridi had stepped into the most fruitful phase of his career where his bowling dominated the affair. In time, he would develop a good wrong‘un and drift would become his most lethal weapon. His batting habits had been spoilt for way too long and were beyond repair. Though, now the sixes were mere bonus and his ball did all the talking.

Test cricket and captaincy also came his way but he could not do justice to them either, again, a part of the blame goes to our system that fails to utilize its assets, a mechanism in which all of stakeholders contribute in their own capacity.

Today, he continues to bat like he does not care but, it is the drastic fall of his bowling form that is the real cause of concern and reason for his possible end – he was wicketless in 37 agonizing overs in the five ODIs in South Africa.

The final in Benoni summarized the larger part of Afridi’s career; his batting not responsible enough and bowling not good enough. My love for him was the only reason he was allowed to dress in green and apparently given the last chance to break my trust. Predictably, he crossed the fine line between playing carefree cricket and not caring about the position of his team.

Sixteen years into our relationship, we are both a little older and we understand life a bit more than we did when we started off as teenagers. We realize we should take a break if not break up, but have we matured enough to face reality? The odds are that neither of us have, he will want to continue playing and deep inside my heart, I still crave for him.

Cricket without Lala will never be the same, but time is a great healer and perhaps it’s time for us to bid farewell and move in separate directions, such is life and so is cricket.

Mistakes that we make as friends, siblings, kids and parents are sometimes similar to what we make as heroes and fans. Expectation and disappointment, joy and grief, gratitude and anger, love and hate, are all part of intimate relations. However, taking someone for granted can lead to despair.

It is important that success is rewarded and failures are punished, that good is hailed and ills are condemned. Tragically for Pakistan, far too many times we have done the opposite. Heroes have to be accountable and fans held responsible. Even in the face of adversity we shall unearth more diamonds.

 


sa80
The writer grew up in a home with sports as its religion and “The Cricketer” subscription of black and white pages as holy script. He resides in Istanbul and can be reached here.

 


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


The writer grew up in a home with sports as its religion and “The Cricketer” subscription of black and white pages as holy script. He resides in Istanbul and can be reached here.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (41) (Closed)


waziri
Mar 29, 2013 10:37am
i m a fan of Lala, without him pakistan,'s cricket team has no importance in my opinion , the day when Laala leaves the cricket i will never watch any match of our team
Dania
Mar 29, 2013 10:39am
Beautifully written.. Loved it specially the part where you said its time for us to bit farewell to Lala :)
Gulbaz Mushtaq
Mar 29, 2013 10:44am
What a beautiful article Shaan Sahib. This is all what an Afridi's fan wants to communicate to him (Afridi). Afridi has got love of people and fans but somehow he failed to deliver what was expected from him.
Muhammad Hassan
Mar 29, 2013 10:50am
Superb...Just the fantastic bit of writing! I guess..millions of afridi fans feel the same thing in their hearts which u put into writing!! After Afridi's fan..iam your fan too :D
Haris
Mar 29, 2013 10:52am
You sir, are a gem and this article was absolutely beautiful.
Pak Lover
Mar 29, 2013 11:33am
This is for you buddy.... "It is important that success is rewarded and failures are punished, that good is hailed and ills are condemned. Tragically for Pakistan, far too many times we have done the opposite. Heroes have to be accountable and fans held responsible." Lala threw away the final in South Africa because of fans like you.
Akbar Khan
Mar 29, 2013 11:38am
I think of the 380 ODI matches that he has played he has disappointed his fans 360 times. He should have played sensible shots and tried to stay on the pitch rather than just throwing his bat away.
Pakistani
Mar 29, 2013 11:42am
Shaid Afridi needs to thank his stars that he is playing for Pakistan otherwise, had it been for any other professional team like Australia, he would have been out of the team a very long time ago. Azhar Mahmood could have been a better and a consistent performer than Shahid Afridi but then again, when have we selected players purely on merit and performance.
ZAK
Mar 29, 2013 12:11pm
Shaan, I totally agree with you that the mind is more important than the heart. If you do not deliver or if you let the team down at very crucial times, you have outlived your place in the team. And sadly for Lala, I think he is past tense now.
Karachi Wala
Mar 29, 2013 12:31pm
A childish romantic idealism is one thing but stark reality is another. In real life (practical life), decisions are made or should be made on the basis of facts. Pakistan Public and PCB need introspect and ask themselves what they want from the Pakistan cricket and where they want to see it in next 5 years, next 10 years and so on ......If the cricket lovers are happy with the mind set of wham bham thank you mam kind of mentality, they can stay with Afridi and produce more Afridi's for future and stay content..... If they want to emulate the West Indies of the 70's and 80's or Australian teams of the 90's 2000's, they need to look and see how they groomed their talent and what is expected from them at the top level....Here is a link of recent interview with one of the most successful Captains and one of the current best analyzer of the game, Ian Chapple.....worth reading....Please read on..... http://www.espncricinfo.com/australia/content/current/story/626895.html
Karachi Wala
Mar 29, 2013 12:34pm
If he was playing cricket the way he has been playing in Pakistan, I am afraid he would never have been selected at first class level.
Karachi Wala
Mar 29, 2013 12:45pm
Sorry, I meant to say if Afridi were to play cricket in Australia....
Ali Hasan
Mar 29, 2013 01:27pm
Overrated player from day one, i ask what contribution has he made on pakistan cricket in 18 years, beside, personal satisfaction and decoration. Is he even worthy of being mention in the same pharse, we the likes of kallis, imran, pollock, botham, hadlee, sobers, I bet, if he scores again quickfire 50-60 odd runs, we would forget what he had done in the past match, and get excited. Because, we only want short term happiness!
Muhammad Hassan
Mar 29, 2013 01:39pm
lol, if a guy of afridi's talent was playing anywhere other than pakistan he would have been treated like a hero and would have been trained into a better cricketer and justice to his talent would have been done. Ager usko test cricket mae paihlay theek chances daitay naa..tou wo ek number one allrounder huta! sehwag jaisa banda..jis ka zero footwork hai usko india nae itna uper pohancha diya..afridi kai pass tou abhi proper shots hai har taraf ground kai
Aimal
Mar 29, 2013 01:39pm
Beautifully written....
Muhammad Hassan
Mar 29, 2013 01:40pm
u should remember t20 worldcup final than..because had it not been afridi..pakistan wont have been crowned World champions!
Zee Paki in USA
Mar 29, 2013 03:56pm
I am amazed at the Pak fans. Lala is not even a cricket player, he is a street player, a tullabaz as we would call him. Anyone with his approach would have made a few fast scores, but would have ended with his stats also. He has caused an immense damage to Pak cricket in my opinion, loosing his wicket at critical junctures due to irresponsible batting. I for one am glad to see his back.
Bombay Beatz
Mar 29, 2013 04:21pm
Immensely talented cricketer no doubt. However its unfortunate he could not change his mindset and mature with age. Cricket is a tactical game and not just about brute force. Its time for him to hang up the gloves and let newer talent get their chance.
Razzaq
Mar 29, 2013 04:32pm
He has been shown more favours than he ever deserved. Sadly, this deprived many talented youngsters with stable mind-set and of grooming. Now he must go.
Fahad
Mar 29, 2013 04:55pm
Brilliantly written article!!
Nadeem Mirza
Mar 29, 2013 05:06pm
like it or not, recent day cricket is all about, "wham bam thankyou mam"! The IPL, SGPL, SLP, BPL, Big bash naming the few are ruining the players and cricket. Players are resting to take part in these lucrative leagues...ICC should start regulating this before they totally loose control of the situation.
Zara Baloch
Mar 29, 2013 05:20pm
Rubbish Article ...Lala has another 10 years of cricket left in him.....
Zara Baloch
Mar 29, 2013 05:21pm
no, u r wrong...he just has a dip of form. Lala has another 10 years left in him
Zara Baloch
Mar 29, 2013 05:23pm
what a lemon you are? Afridi is going to be great again soon....everyone has a dip in form....S F conditions were far from ideal for spinners...only reason I was cricket is AFRIDI
TruthTeller
Mar 29, 2013 05:39pm
Afridid aka Lala has been a huge disappointment in the last few years. He had multiple chances to prove against SA that he still got it and he failed miserably. His 88 runs were in vain if you dont end up winning the match. But Lala is not the only who hasn't been performing .. we need to fire Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Imran Farhat, immediately and don't consider them in ODIs and T20s at all. Misbah is the only player i would keep just to keep the middle order intact just in case our top order collapse which happens regularly. We need to bring in young talent now before it's too late. We have 3-4 youngsters at the domestic/Pak-A level which need to be on the national side. But guess what though .. i am willing to bet PCB will never change and that's the hard cold truth!!!!! I am sick of supporting a team that doesn't play anyone based on merit .... Thanks Goodness I live abroad and have other local sport teams to follow. I feel sorry for people in Pak ... they have been robbed from enjoying cricket in its true form.
pakistani
Mar 29, 2013 06:40pm
He played his cricket outside the realm of the game itself and inside the hearts of his fans. kiya baat hai...
Dr.M.M.Khan
Mar 29, 2013 07:02pm
Great batsmen never become old, they only stop scoring. Fast bowlers never become old--they only stop taking wickets. Age catches up with all but we refuse to see the writing on the wall. The aggression emanating from the mind is there but the physiological reflexes have slowed down. Aridi was different at the age of 16 but quite different at 36 years. Does he recognise it? Thanks to nostalgia and emotions we hang on to him and he hangs on to us too. The time of parting of ways came a long time ago but like a heavy weight boxer he always wants another chance---please let go. You have served us well.
Capt C M Khan
Mar 29, 2013 09:13pm
A person who lives on his past is like a POTATO ...most of him is underground. Afridi is a HAS BEEN and Dawn wants him to play more, blocking the entry of other 16 year olds, keep on bringing shame to Pakistani fans living abroad. Grow up guys and call Spade a Spade. He should have been sacked two years ago.
Ghazanfar
Mar 29, 2013 10:20pm
Ithis article remind me how we love to watch his game.. i failed my NED exam .. thanks to Shahid Afridi...it was 15 Dec. 1996 match was played in Australia (usually telecast at 4am PST) .. I read whole night then watched the match and you know whats gonna happen if you do that and appear in exam... he bowled GS Blewett out on his quicker one.. Blewett was stunned due to pace (at that time Shahid quicker ones were around 120 km/hr).. i just cannt forget the reaction of Blewett... Pakistan won by 12 runs in the end
Adnan
Mar 29, 2013 10:44pm
it's the emotion felt by every Pakistani cricket fan.... Couldn't have put it into words better.... ..... How could some one play cricket for so long because of his silky hair.... Wah Rey mera Pakistan
kamran khan
Mar 29, 2013 11:00pm
Afridi is a disgrace
Rameez Ali
Mar 30, 2013 04:39am
Amazing!!!!!!Felt as if i was reading Shakespeare novel.
TKhan
Mar 30, 2013 05:49am
But why must we pick only on Afridi? What of all the others...Hafeez, Misbah, Shoaib, Akmal bros, Younis...in short each and every one of our other players...who achieved what? Is it a one man "Afridi" team only? In fact what of the skewed selection and nepotism rampant in the team, and the horrendous mismanagement of all affairs at the helm. Where must we begin? Obviously, best is to start from the very foundations...
introspecteeve
Mar 30, 2013 08:35am
IMO, A die hard Afridi fan does not have love for the game of cricket and is as serious about this great sport as PPP was in governing Pakistan. An Afridi fan should rather watch Wrestling or watch Bollywood films if he wants only entertainment because Afridi has an appalling record as a player even after so many years. His 17 years in international cricket has how many salient moments? You can count them on your finger tips where as Kallis, Dravid, Ganguly and Ponting who made their debut in same year gave their country men countless joys and stood out in the game as legends whereas if Afridi would give an honest look at his career, he would found it a big wasted dump and would find himself very fortunate to have played all these years just because this nation likes mediocrity and would like to cheer non-professionalism. Pakistan cricket deserved some professionalism from Afridifor all the honour and opportunities it had given to him.
muhammad tariq
Mar 30, 2013 10:50am
Had Afridi played sensibly he was then matchless in crickting world.He was a giagantic crickter but being ended like a mediocre.This is disappointment for PAKISTANIS.
Muhammad Faysal
Mar 30, 2013 03:15pm
When Afridi bats, an entire nation of Kashmiris hold their breath and hearts. The show is not over yet.
Shah
Mar 30, 2013 03:21pm
Excellent write up. So true.
Pramod
Mar 30, 2013 07:40pm
Don't know what you see in cricketer. Sehwag was a hitter with very good technique. he might not have great footwork but he compensated it with hand eye coordination. Do you know he is among top 10 batsman double centurion scoring 6 double centuries(5 on foreign pitches), out of which 2 were triple centuries(both on foreign soil).he is one of 4 players till now who has done it more than once.His average is close to 50 in test. Lets think before speaking.
asad
Mar 30, 2013 08:56pm
waste of time in writing artical on boom boom to the dressing room. tired of seeing his hypocrate face.
Ali
Mar 31, 2013 08:33am
He is the worst thing happened to Pakistan cricket! Most selfish man I have ever seend in a game of cricket. He has time and again shown utter disrespect for his teamates and country, only plays for himself. He won us a few games but cost us countless important games.
Umar
Mar 31, 2013 08:34am
true waste of time. drop him from team. and bring him back when he deserves