GEORGETOWN: Shahid Afridi made one of the more remarkable comebacks in international cricket in leading Pakistan to a crushing 126-run victory over the West Indies in the first one-day international at the Guyana National Stadium on Sunday.
Omitted from his country's failed Champions Trophy campaign, the mercurial all-rounder recorded the best-ever ODI bowling figures by a Pakistani, and the second best overall, snaring seven for 12 to rout the home side for just 98 off 41 overs after having top-scored with a typically swashbuckling 76 in the visitors' total of 224 for nine.
This match represented yet another stunning spike in the 17-year international career of a cricketer whose ability to delight and entertain with his extravagant manner has often been overshadowed by an almost chronic failure to deliver at the most critical of times.
Fortunately for Pakistan, this was not one of those times and his impact on the match started with his domination of a 120-run sixth-wicket partnership with his captain, Misbah-ul-Haq (52), the pair rescuing their team from the depths of 47 for five after gangling fast-medium bowler Jason Holder had wrecked the top order in finishing with the excellent figures of four for 13.
While Misbah laboured towards yet another workmanlike half-century, occupying 121 deliveries, Afridi's knock was a hurricane by comparison, decorated by five sixes and six fours off just 55 deliveries.
He looked well on the way to completing a hundred but perished in the 39th over, caught by Darren Sammy at deep midwicket off the bowling of Kieron Pollard.
West Indies would have been expecting the likes of Pollard and fellow big-hitter Chris Gayle to produce similar innings to give their team a fighting chance of getting the 225 runs needed for victory.
However that hope never materialised, and while Afridi took most of the glory with his demolition job with the ball, the early damage was done by Mohammad Irfan.
In overcast, seamer-friendly conditions, the giant left-arm pacer disconcerted the top-order of the West Indies with his speed and trajectory from such a great height, bowling Johnson Charles with a swinging full-toss and then forcing Darren Bravo to glove a lifting delivery on the body for wicketkeeper Umar Akmal to take the catch down the leg-side.
Pakistan then got a huge boost when new batsman Marlon Samuels called Gayle for a sharp single and Misbah's direct hit from cover found the dangerous opener short of his ground and the West Indies wobbling badly at seven for three.
All the support bowlers maintained the pressure and when Afridi came on as the fifth change, the floodgates really opened.
Unable to cope with his cocktail of top-spinners and googlies, a succession of batsmen ill-equipped mentally and technically to cope with such wiles succumbed without much of a fight as five wickets crashed for 14 runs.
Only Samuels (25) showed any meaningful resistance, but it was never going to be enough against a rampant Afridi, who finished off the match by trapping Holder, the early destroyer for the West Indies, palpably lbw.
Only Sri Lanka's Chamina Vaas, 8-19 against Zimbabwe in 2001, has a better return in ODI cricket. The match also produced West Indies' lowest ever ODI total against Pakistan.
Pakistan: Nasir Jamshed, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal (wk), Shahid Afridi, Wahab Riaz, Asad Ali, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Irfan
West Indies: Chris Gayle, Johnson Charles (wk), Darren Bravo, Lendl Simmons, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo (capt), Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Kemar Roach, Sunil Narine, Jason Holder