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Afridi — Losing his drift

Published Sep 19, 2012 05:03pm


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The white ball flicked out of the hand like a guided missile that had its target already engraved on it. The seam assumed the perfect leg-spinner’s diagonal (1st slip-mid-on), drifted deceptively towards De-Villiers’s stumps, and whisked the dry surface of the pitch. It seemed as if the ball picked up speed instead of shedding the usual few yards. It ricocheted off the batsman’s inside edge, and finally cannoned into the stumps. Cock-a-hoop with joy bowler let the rest of his team surround him and brandished his head from side to side like a proud rooster who had just claimed his reward. The scene should not have looked that good, for it was a rather perfect reenactment of the celebrations that had transpired just an over ago. But it did. It looked even better than the last one. This was Shahid Afridi in the 2009 World T20 semi-final against South Africa.

That afternoon now seems ages ago. Recently, the all-rounder has looked as if he is just going through his paces, first against the Australians in the UAE, and now against the Indians in the warm up to the World T20. To the casual eye, it may seem like Afridi is just 'sad' like Ronaldo. But there is a genuine problem that is affecting his performance.

The 2009 conquering of the Proteas saw Afridi at the peak of his powers. He had been talking about concentrating on his bowling for a long time, but it was only the winter prior to that gargantuan effort at the World T20 that he actually put in the hard yards. He worked with the spin maestro Abdul Qadir, and finally figured out the textbook metric for his bowling. Understanding his own strengths, he perfected the pace of his variations (mainly slowing down his leg spinners to allow flight and gravity to play their parts). He had found his zone and seldom did you see him leave it over the two years that followed.

Afridi had discovered what every spinner, especially a legspinner, yearns for throughout his career— drift.

The perils of imitating Shane Warne

Drift is what has separated the respectable from the prodigious over the years. You can beat any ordinary batsman with mere sideways turn, but to beat the best you often need that drift to sway your way. After all, it wasn’t Shane Warne’s square turn that beat Mike Gatting in the summer of 93’ (a player of spin of his caliber could have accounted for that), but it was the drift into him, before the pitch of the delivery, that made the ball almost impossible to play.

Given the angled position of the seam in respect to the axis of rotation and the dynamic direction of the ball’s path through a delivery’s flight, drift is a natural component that comes with any form of wrist spin. This is due to what is scientifically termed the Magnus effect (a slightly complex physical concept dealing with spherical rotations in wind tunnels)*.

But what is of course harder to achieve and carry out consistently is sufficient enough drift to make the batsman think twice, and sow that seed of doubt in his mind.  This “magnitude” of drift can be linked to two basic things; the spinner’s swivel (pivot) and the amount of work done on the ball at release (rotations, commonly misrepresented as revolutions on the ball during commentary).

Those familiar with the basics of spin will know that it is the pivot off the leading foot, and the quick rotation of the plane of your backside (up to 120° for leggies), along with the rotations imparted by the hand that determines the spin on the ball. The quicker the pivot or shift in momentum, the more spin the bowler is able to generate, and the easier it becomes for him to impart rotations at the time of release. It’s these rapid rotations (off spinners range between 25-35 rps, while leg spinners range between 35-45rps) that allow the ball to dip quickly after attaining maximum height, and drift in before turning in the opposite direction.

Contrary to the more obvious notion that the amount of turn and bounce determine a spinner’s threat (important as they are), nothing beats the elusive effect of a slant against the normal trajectory of the ball that makes the batsman doubt himself. It is that doubt which made Afridi’s chest puff out three summers past in Nottingham, and helped him reap the rewards in the two years that followed. It is that doubt which made him the best bowler in the 2011 World Cup and allowed him to pounce on his prey, while it deliberated between lurching forwards or perching backwards. Sadly though, for Pakistan, in the period after the World Cup (in which he has averaged an abysmal forty-one with the ball in ODIs against non-minnow sides), it is also that very same doubt which eludes his more accomplished adversaries every time Afridi hurls the ball at them.

The back, due to its pronounced swivel during the spinner’s pivot (as explained) is of greatest importance when it comes to creating drift. It is the major reason why Afridi’s potency has seen a downward trend over the last year or so. The all-rounder has been sporting niggles in his back and side for quite some time now (the keener observers might have picked up on it while seeing him do his normal ground fielding). His aerial catching, diving and throwing (all aspects that keep the back in one plane) remain impressive, but the veteran star is often reluctant when he has to bend down to pick up the simpler rolling ball.

Afridi certainly hasn’t helped his cause. By opting to play in almost every single T20 league open to him, he has not only humoured those niggles, but also allowed them to develop into what now looks like a full-fledged hindrance to his bowling.

It will take the bravest of captains to ever risk resting Afridi, not only is he the talisman of the team, but the surfaces in Sri Lanka (especially in Colombo) are ideal for his style of bowling. However, his absence might not be a confirmed death knell for Hafeez’s men. They do have an able replacement in Raza Hassan. But it it will be unfair to shun the kid into the spotlight during the pressure stages. Going into a major tournament with a back problem for a leg-spinner should be an instinctive no! But when that spinner is Afridi, no one really knows which instinct is at play. Maybe it’s time Pakistan’s gun player looks in the mirror and decides if he can still spot the Prince of Nottingham within.

*Those interested in reading up on the physics of drift should consult the late Bob Woolmer’s Art and Science of Cricket.


Shoaib Naveed
A cricket nut since Aqib Javed’s bucket hair style and Wasim bhai’s poetic action took his fancy, the writer, fit only for a slogger is pretending to be a top order bat Down Under and blogs 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 (53) Closed

SAK Sep 20, 2012 10:52pm
Afridi is a spent force and it is time for him to have a respectable exit. He should help make room in the national side for a bright young talent to take his place. He should get inspiration from Cricket greats like Imran, Miandad, Waseem Akram and so many who are retired but still respected and loved by cricket fans all over Pakistan. Lala, make the right choice!
Imran Abbas Sep 20, 2012 12:33pm
He is getting old. He need to realise and start batting in different role by utilising experience. He cant hit balls as he use to some time. He gota play 2009 final role kind of batting. Play sensibly aggresive. His bowling will come good soon.
Hassan Sep 19, 2012 04:48pm
i really hope this is understood by our management there and the coach and physical trainer. and more importantly Afridi himself. Accordingly it should be treated (which i dont expect, rather two matches more and he would be dropped.) Would like to mention that u have written a gem! :)
Que Sep 20, 2012 10:52am
Great article & reviews!!! It just a bad patch for Afridi... He is still a playing 'ICON' in the cricket world!!! You have our support - Bro!
rafe Sep 20, 2012 10:36am
he has a bad patch and nothing else. He was and is a big match player. Time will tell this.
Gul Khan Sep 20, 2012 05:10pm
Inshallah the King will be back with bang! he is still pakistan best match WINNER
Mervy Sep 20, 2012 05:32pm
If he reads instruction on the back of cricket bat, he might learn how to use a cricket bat. currently it seems he read instruction manual of baseball bat
True Indian Sep 20, 2012 09:37am
'Losing his drift'....Are you crazy ....when did he have any drift...he was an empty vessel which sounds maximum...He just has a face value which brings Pakistanis to the stadium and gets tickets sold....otherwise he is just a liability for Pakistan and a great asset for opponents...With Afridi playing, Pakistan is always one down right from starts so the opponent has to worry about taking the other nine wickets...
Hyder Ali Sep 20, 2012 12:17pm
Salams, Unfortunately Afridi has played his cricket when player mentors like Imran and Miandad were not captaining the side which is why Afridi, Umar Akmal etc have not matured into next level that belong to great players This era is perhaps the weakest in terms of both nervous batting and toothless pace bowling plus branded useless coaches like dave watmore and julian fountain. Only a miracle can revive our cricketers to glory. Regards, Hyder
haris Sep 20, 2012 09:20am
If it was any other player I would definitely shout-out-loud for his retirement but "Afridi" Hell NO! he is our strike bowler (yes strike bowler) and the best fielder Pakistan has ever-produced. Though I never considered him a batsman. Those who calls for his retirement, my advice to them, Get a Life and don't be too pathetic.
Adnan Sep 20, 2012 09:16am
I think he is just lacking a bit of confidence these days. He needs support from the team management and Hafeez. He has a few years to go still before he should hang up his boots.
Sheri gujjar Sep 20, 2012 05:37pm
i think he is just upset now a days bcoz he was not given him the perfect place which he required so we dont have the right to critisiz him he is a petriotic player he just play for his nation and country not for his ownself.So plz see next we r only here to critisiz someone.Just look b4 2012 his performance he is the only player who got the title of BOOM BOOM not any other player.I request u all plz think +ve ok PAKISTAN ZINDABAD.
Shafiq Malik Sep 20, 2012 08:25am
Afridi should concentrate on his boweling. he is reagarded as classy bowler by all fans now even according to Cricket guru Imran Khan he should b considered as a bowler
Genius Sep 20, 2012 08:10am
Afridi should have been captaining in this T20 worldcup 2012 and i personally think Afridi was so dissapointted the way PCB behave earlier with Afridi by not only taking captaincy from him and put financial penalties. Afridi couldnot make himself out from that position. Afridi is in a sort of revenge positon with other captains e.g Misbah & Hafeez., and righlty so. Although, there is no doubt that in T20 Afridi is the no.1 Choice for captaincy and no one else like Hafeez, Misbah are better than him but it's about Pakistan now and Afridi should support Hafeez & other team players, thats the only solution to win this World T20 cup 2012 because Ajmal lonely couldnot turned the table and needs some support from other team players.
Waseem Sep 20, 2012 08:07am
he is the one of the best cricketer who can change the game with his batting and bowling.He should be given time to prove u Afridi
Sohail Sep 20, 2012 06:20pm
Drift or no drift, why would author expose Afridi's weakness at this critical juncture when the World T20 is in progress?? Couldn't he have waited a bit longer until the tournament is over. The author has truly demonstrated the art of being a Pakistani -- that is to give away the most important info to the world so that they can exploit it. It reminds me of Wasim Akram who would tour around the world giving away the secret to swing the ball and training the opposition's bowlers. Why is it that we Pakistanis shoot ourselves in the foot! Following this trend, that day is not too far when we will soon hear that Pakistan's most prominent spinner Saeed Ajmal is teaching the world how to perform doosras and teesras. Have we ever seen Shane Warne or Glen McGrath teaching others about their art?? never... Have you ever seen any former Indian star cricketers to come to Pakistan and teach our kids how to bat or bowl? never.......then WHY DO WE PAKISTANI's DO IT???!!
Akhter Husain Sep 20, 2012 08:05am
When most of us are busy in making money,on the cost of contractual duties,why grudge Afridi?Are you going to support him when he needs it?
introspecteeve Sep 20, 2012 07:44am
A very well spotted problem. Afridi is most dangerous when he gets drift and when he gets drift, his body language changes all together. not only he is dangerous then, he also rips through his overs.
Mohsin Sep 20, 2012 07:20am
It is very disappointing that majority of u wants afridi out of has called him selfish player....this is very pathetic....every player has its bad tym...what about ponting, cameroon white....and many others who r not in good shape for more than a year...but they all have been given the chance again again....please support your stars and team rather disrespect and insult them....pleeaaseee...Pakistan Zindabad
quitty Sep 20, 2012 06:27pm
Im, agree with u.thoda kharab performence dekhte hi retirement ke liye pressure daalte hai, in logo ko Sachin se khuch sikhna chahiye. Afridi is just 32 .abhi se retirement ki baath kerke afridi ko pareshan kerraha hai.very sad.....if Afridi shows good performance then every one will shout "lala lala" mean......... every one should support Afridi at his difficult time.and pray for him.
Ch.subba Rao Sep 20, 2012 06:30am
Afridi should concentrate on cricket forgetting TV shows and commercials,other wise he should be shown the door and groom youngster
sja Sep 20, 2012 05:28am
His focus is now on the items he can sell with much ease and more money ----- Rice, PEPSI, etc etc, when you act a lot and get a lot, then it affects the performance on the field where you do not get a lot, but have to deliver a lot.
rayees Sep 20, 2012 05:11am
He is a great player ....he is a legent of its own, cricket has never produced a player like him . the record of Afridi itself says 7000 runs and 350 wickets. no one should point finger on this awsome player when he is abit out of form , he is a fighter and we will see his good performance in this t20 world cup Insha Allah.
sana yasin Sep 20, 2012 05:00am
he is a match winner i m not fan of his batting but like all other players he is going through a rough phase n we should back him for this T20.
hero Sep 20, 2012 04:50am
good for hair gel advert only......
Debraj Sep 20, 2012 04:44am
I think it is his current state of mind. Afridi is too restless when it comes to batting. His bad balling performances might be why he is failing with the bat. He needs to get his focus and thus his confidence back.
Farrukh Sep 20, 2012 05:54pm
Well written. I think Afridi should either improve on his performance or gracefully retire now. How much more time he needs to learn from his mistakes. Present day cricket is more demanding..The game has become more competative.... pakistan cricket team's history for being unconsistent is quite evident. we need to groom youngsters not only on the basis of their talent......but on latest techniques which are developed over years of experience by experts of the game. Afridi has done a lot for the country, and we all have high expectations from him and the team aswell. But PCB have to have a realistic approach in order to make pakistan cricket team world class. We should have icons in the game who truely bear the mass with likes of viv richards, don bradman, brian lara, gary sobers, wasim akram, waqar younis, saeed anwar....and so on.
Hafeez Sep 20, 2012 04:23am
Extremely detailed analysis.. bravo
Adbdul Mubeen Sep 20, 2012 03:34am
He is the only hero in Pakistan Team. because of him the audience went to Ground, Once he played we will wine....
Imran Quraishi Sep 20, 2012 02:22am
I wish he quits the game for good. He is a useless player in our team and always throws away his wicket . He has become a laughing stock for the team and should be discarded immediately to make way for a youngster.
Sohail Ahmed Sep 20, 2012 01:34am
I would appreciate writer's aerodynamics knowledge of spinning ball. I would add that I feel Afridi is not managing the finger-wrist-shoulder combination properly before delivery. He is prone to giving wides now a days and also is picked up easily by batsmen. The faster off break has become too common and he had to invent new deliveries like Saeed but is not able to yield that (perhaps an IQ problem). Most important is to know a batsman's weakness and I am sorry to say that no bowler (except luckily for Saeed) is capable of learning and applying that information. So, the bowling is generally astray and many a catch are lost due to high punches falling in no-man's land area. Question is, whether he is able to regain? I have my doubts. To me, he seems to be a goner...... although I wish my assessment comes out to be wrong and we see more of him.
True Pakistani Sep 20, 2012 06:57pm
Syed Sep 19, 2012 09:40pm
his record is no "out of this world", but it was good while it lasted, he should retire and help groom future players and don't wait for PCB to give him the boot for not performing.
ali Sep 19, 2012 09:05pm
People singing anthems for Afridi's performance in 2009 T20 worldcup, have forgotten that he was being criticised for his poor form in the same tournament before the last three matches. Its the same trend being followed everytime, few bad performances the criticism is lethal and then godlike praises once he shows what he is capable of. Technical analysis sounds really good "for analysis", I am dead sure that he is still capable of winning matches single handed and once that happens critics would have completely different view of dips, drifts, curls and swivels.
Capt C M Khan Sep 19, 2012 07:32pm
You are wrong. We have been reading cooments this like for ages. Afridi is a money making player has no time to practice and play for the country. Pakistan can win without him.
Navi Sep 19, 2012 07:24pm
PCB is the only firm in the world who still employ their employees even they don't perform; treat these losers on daily wages; if you perform you make money otherwise check their patriotism to play free for the country :-) this will be good move and than you will see all so called big names will disappear. cheers
Ali Sep 19, 2012 07:09pm
How about Umer Akmal? Have not delivered a thing in the past one year and still in the team.
Brother Iam Sep 20, 2012 05:07pm
When was the last time Afridi won a game for the national team with bowling or batting or fielding?
Merchant Iqbal Sep 20, 2012 12:58pm
I think Afridi has three problems.First due to mediast backing he was thinking that he will be captain which was not given to him so he is disappointed.Second his back trouble and third he is depressed because he is not giving performance expected from him.Hafiz is trying to encourage him but he is unable to deliver which that is why he is frustrated.He has to take it easy and captain and fans should give him space.
Ahmed Sep 19, 2012 06:26pm
So indepth - I salute the details you have provided. Wish Pakistanis could be 25% as analytic in their lives.
Zahid Sep 19, 2012 06:04pm
Regrettably Shahid Afridi does not have time to practice, he is too busy with making commercials and hosting TV Shows. These players have made enough money. They don't care for their performance, only reason they show up in the ground to flash their branded name of bat. Bat companies either they own or they hefty money from. Sponsors have too much influence on these players. It is time for Afridi to say good buy and host a full time TV show or promote his BOOM BOOM.
s.m.mustafa Sep 19, 2012 05:58pm
Razzaq Sep 19, 2012 05:56pm
No other country of the world would continue with likes of Afridi for that long as Pakistan have done scarifying god knows how many young talents.If one analyses his career, his averages does not justify his continued selection, or just list the number of matches he has won for the team against number of matches his team lost because of his irresponsible attitude. What ever his achievements,one must acknowledge and have due respect for them.It is about time that selectors should look for a real replacement, and there is no dearth for the talents.
amir Sep 19, 2012 05:56pm
I have also noticed that his bowling action is missing his whirling dervish twirl when he bowls and it is affecting how the ball comes out of his hand. He needs rest to rehab instead of playing constantly
Mandeep Sep 19, 2012 05:44pm
To me he was always an over rated player. If you look at his statistics they dont inspire any awe. But Pakistan has no replacement as I dont see much talent coming for Pakistan ulike 80s or 90s.
Abdullah Hussain Sep 19, 2012 05:15pm
Afridi will come back and hopefully in the current T20 world cup. All he needs is a booster 100 on the score board. Afridi is a celebrity cricketer, the problem is that fan wants to see him batting the way he used to. His decision to concentrate on improving his bowling skills was not a good idea because the public wants to see him batting good more than his bowling performance. All should support this great player. He has become nervous he needs encouragement. Whether he performs well or otherwise he should be given a fix batting order. I can bet once Afridi clicks he will be his past self again.
Ramiz Sep 19, 2012 05:04pm
Superb article, covering all the technical grounds of spin bowling quite brilliantly.
Adnan Farid Sep 19, 2012 04:55pm
Make him captain and he'll start performing again , he wants the cameras to be on him all the time .. when hes bowling well or hes interested he gets the ball to drift into the right hander .. its sad he only cares about and plays for himself ..
Hindu Sep 20, 2012 05:03pm
Most over rated player of the world...
DR Sep 20, 2012 10:32pm
@ true indian U cant bring a all rounder like him, is that whats bothering you?
Capt C M Khan Sep 20, 2012 10:35pm are a true here.....LOL
Jáhánzěb Hųşşáin Qųrěşhi Sep 21, 2012 12:06am
Oh wow what a meaningless comment, I think you forgot what he did to your bowlers smashing 100 off 45 balls, the time when he smashed you out of the park, 1. He's the only 2nd player to have 7000+ runs and 350+ wickets in ODIs 2. He has the record for most sixes 3. He has the record for being the youngest player to score century 4. Fastest century, the only batsmen to have scored 50+ runs and taken 5 wicket haul at 2 different venues 5. He has the record for "Most Man of the Match Award" from Pakistan.... Atleast have some respect for the Legendary Cricketer Don't be a stereotype
haleema Dheen Sep 21, 2012 04:43am
Afridi, Umar Akmal and Imran Nazir should be dropped, so many games the 3 played and not one game have they justified themselves to be in the team, its unfair for team pakistan, the nation and other players who are more responsible and want to be in the team. may Allah open the eyes of the selectors captain and coach.