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Three of the best

Published Mar 17, 2013 10:14pm


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Shahid Afridi. -Photo by AFP

JOHANNESBURG: Pakistan ended the third ODI at the Wanderers as they were expected to – with a loss that leaves them with no room for error in this series.

This was to be expected – Pakistan’s record in third ODIs of series against South Africa is pretty poor, as is their record at the Wanderers (one win in nine matches). Pakistan are a team that has nearly always relied on outbowling the opposition throughout the course of ODI cricket, and the ground in Johannesburg – one which has a quick outfield, the rarified air of the Highveld and a pitch which has bounce but little else – means that many of Pakistan’s greatest assets are hampered by the conditions.

But this match will be remembered for three of the best innings in recent ODI history. First there was Hashim Amla. Once considered not good enough for pyjama cricket, he’s become the best shortform batsman in the world without changing what makes him great in the five-day game. He only plays “cricketing shots” – it’s just that in this version he played an advanced version of it. As the cliché goes, he makes the game look easy. Not just because he scores at whatever rate is required, but also because once he is in, he never looks uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, there was AB de Villiers at the other end – playing the perfect ODI innings for the second time in eight days. In both the first and third ODIs, he has come in when Pakistan were beginning to take a hold of the game and immediately set about to redress that balance.

Unlike Amla, his range of shots is often innovative and outrageous; but again unlike some Pakistanis, the risks he takes are always calculated. Considering his ability to counter-attack and convert his starts, the intensity he brings to the running and the fact that he has every gear required for batting in the format, he might be the best batting partner in the world right now.

Pakistan’s struggles against them were to be expected. After all, the duo are ranked at number 1 and 2 in the ICC ODI rankings for batsmen. Since January 2008, both of them average above 58 in ODIs with strike rates above 90. Those, especially when compared to the talent Misbah-ul-Haq has at his disposal, are quite ludicrous stats. Even in the era of flat pitches and post-T20 bashing, those stats speak of remarkable consistency. De Villiers and Amla together, for pairs that have batted more than ten times together in ODI cricket history, they are peerless.

On Friday, Misbah talked about how in the clamor to slate our own players, we often forget how good the other side are; or as it may be referred to in the local lexicon “aglay bhi khelne aaye huay hain”. Perhaps the Pakistani bowlers did bowl badly today, but more than likely it was Amla and de Villiers who made them look bad.

With the South Africans there is reason and care; with Afridi there is neither. 
There was one more innings that will be remembered.

In the past fifteen months, Shahid Afridi has averaged over 80 with the ball with an economy rate above five (excluding matches against Bangladesh and Afghanistan). He has been a passenger in the team for most that time, especially when one considers that in that duration, he has passed thirty-five only once.

It used to be said of good all-rounders that if they failed in one discipline, they would make up for it in another and Afridi has failed to do that quite spectacularly. But such is his fanbase and support that after being dropped for the ODI series against India, he was recalled for the South Africa series despite showing little improvement during his time off. There have been indications and murmurs that not every one of the Pakistanis in South Africa appreciates his return without him earning his spot on merit. But of course, meritocracy has never been a strong point for the boys in green.

Afridi vindicated his fanbase today. His – and often Pakistan’s – cricket is one of moments. It’s not the sustained brilliance of Amla or de Villiers. Yet, somehow, this makes it more fun. With the South Africans there is reason and care; with Afridi there is neither. He bashes unconditionally and without regret. Watching an Afridi innings is an experience that has to be lived, the imminent death of which is what makes it extraordinary – it’s an adrenaline rush; a bungee jump compared to Amla’s savouring of the finest wines.

Today was one of those rare days when everything went right – the stars aligned, the stage was set, and Afridi swung away. In Pakistan, occasional brilliance always trumps sustained competence; Shahid Afridi always trumps Misbah-ul-Haq. It may not be the ideal way to build a team, but it’s more entertaining to watch than any collection of probots. Fifteen months of subpar performances from Afridi were forgiven today for one knock. Even he realized, as he admitted later, that his innings was useless, as he could not carry Pakistan through till the end. He will probably be in the minority with that viewpoint.

Pakistan will now go to Durban, try to level terms and plan for what they’ve never done before: win a bilateral series against the Proteas. It may not be likely, but like the second innings of today’s match, there is room for hope even if it seems irrational.


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Comments (55) Closed

Ali Mar 18, 2013 12:50am
Amla had 7 fours when he hit his century with a strike rate of 100. And AB I think had 9 boundaries with no SIXES at all. I will not blame Afridi here as I compare him to Du Plessis but it is Misbah, Jamshed, Akmal and Shuaib to be blamed. Also Wahab Riaz was not as effective as he should have been. Pakistan conceded too many extras and fielding was not as good as it should have been. With one less fielder, this may be excused but extras by the bowlers is mind boggling.
Indian Fan Mar 18, 2013 01:45am
Mr.Cheema have you forgotten Afridi knock in previous ODI against South Africa ? Seems you suffer from Afridi bashing.Man that is his livelihood to play cricket and he made South African pacers look like school boys.I have never seen any one hitting like that fast bowlers out of cricket ground.South African crowd could not believe their eyes.In my book Afridi was winner!Well played Pakistan,give performance like same and win will automatically follow you in days ahead.
Faruq Mar 18, 2013 04:28am
Most cricketers are sportsmen. Afridi, I think it's safe to say, is more of an entertainer. I always enjoy his shots and when he's on song, it's one of the best things to watch in world cricket.
rohan Mar 18, 2013 04:48am
Virat kohli's 133 and 183 was the best knocks in recent past.......
Faisal Mar 18, 2013 05:26am
Good article, Hassan! I like the praise for Amla-de Villiers pair. My only comment is about choice of words, or idiom if you will, in the phrase "... a bungee jump compared to Amla
Swabva'l Mar 18, 2013 06:20am
Wahab Riaz can bat on this wicket, i don't understand what was wrong with our top order
Que Mar 18, 2013 06:55am
Afridi is not done with SA... There is more to come! Hope Iqbal Qasim watched Afridi innings just like the world did and appreciated it!!!!
ahmed2030 Mar 18, 2013 07:31am
The problem is we have a pathetic wicket keeper batsmen in Kamran, we have useless top order in Hafeez, Younus and whoever comes around them and we have pathetic fast bowling resources barring Irfan and probably Junaid Khan. So we are left with only a few world class players and few that are not world class but there is lot of promise. I am talking about Ajmal who is world class. And Nasir Jamshed, Asad Shafique, Irfan and Junaid that have promise. Misbah, Younus are past their sell by date in ODI's. Okay simple question, which batsmen do we think who once gets set, CAN score a hundred. Apart from Nasir Jamshed and maybe Shoaib Malik, perhaps no one else. Who amongst our fast bowlers can run through the opposition line ? at the moment only Irfan. Rest of the batsmen can score quickfire 20,30 or 40. Hafeez 57 last night was an anamoly, he is a player whose tank finishes after 25.
ANZ Mar 18, 2013 07:50am
Pakistan Team fought bravely and with that spirit they should play every game. Misbah still needs to be kicked out!
Mustafa Mar 18, 2013 07:58am
Now as Rahman Malik is no more a minister, PCB should get rid of S. Malik.
ABL Mar 18, 2013 09:15am
There is nothing wrong with Afridi, its only his inconsistent performance. Lets hope he stays performing in last 2 ODIs. He is surely in form now, the way he was middling the ball and hitting hard. The SAs will never forget the six hit outside the stadium into the golf course. Boom Boom!!
Husnain Q. Mar 18, 2013 09:39am
Just a correction not both amla and AB avg. over 58, AB is 49 and amla is 59
Sami Ullah Swati Mar 18, 2013 09:48am
The author smell of under-rated smoke against Afridi. Games are for fun and whether there was reason or not, at least he saved us from shameful defeat. Above all, this game is too slow to be entertaining and there is one in the global stage who could do that and just that. Afridi dropped, what other options you suggest for Pakistan????Just keep enjoying as we don't have to win all the time.
Ahmed Qadri Mar 18, 2013 09:54am
Mashallah, Hassan Cheema Saheb, you impressed me thoroughly with your beautiful English - you have my sincere congratulations! In the future, I shall be hunting for the articles written by you
Bhatti Mar 18, 2013 10:13am
Finally Afridi has proven wrong that he can hit sixes only in TV ads.
Javed Mar 18, 2013 10:47am
We need a change of CAPTAIN!
khan Mar 18, 2013 11:23am
very difficult English verbiage used.
Indian Fan Mar 18, 2013 11:24am
Without Misbah and Malik Pakistan would have been 3-0 and not 2-1
Indian Fan Mar 18, 2013 11:26am
Why change of Captain man,there is no better person than Captain cool Misbah?
Wasim Mar 18, 2013 11:31am
Afridi is over rated player , he is not having caliber and skills to play at international level
Faisal Mar 18, 2013 11:36am
Kholi should remember Junaid Khan !
Karachi Wala Mar 18, 2013 12:21pm
It is always good to see someone from your own team plundering the opposing bowlers. However, I am a firm believer, among other things the worst thing that has happened to the Pakistan cricket was the fastest century scored in ODI by Afridi. It changed the culture and mindset of not only the budding cricketers in Pakistan but also it changed the mindset of the cricket followers. Instead of believing in constant and steady hard work oriented results, the whole nation started to believe in miracles on the regular basis, thinking it was their God given right.
karim Mar 18, 2013 12:30pm
Pakistan team has lots politics. That is the main reason we dont win often. If players are not doing their job, we can not blame the coach. Imran farat, Sharjeel khan, Mohamed Hafeez, afridi ( captain ) Haris Sohail, Umar Amin, Akbar ur Rehman, Mohamed Rizwan (Wkt) Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Anwar Ali play this team we will win word cup .
saadazim Mar 18, 2013 01:33pm
After going through some of the comments.. all i can say is .. this country and its people amaze me literally ..!!! narrow minded, emotional and irrational are one of the few words that defines you all ... you hate misbah?. to begin with ... you guys want a different captain right.. well I hope that happens because you guys don't deserve someone like misbah....lala garbage or any other drama queen is what is guys truly deserve. and I dont understand how can you guys draw a comparison between misbah and lala's captaincy... lala is good for nothing player with over 350+ games and terrible track record as a captain.... cant believe people are saying good things about his 80 odd runs.. HELLO... 80 RUNS FOR A LOSING CAUSE AND AFTER 50 GAMES OF POOR PERFORMANCE ? .. nobody said much about misbahs match winning 50 in the previous game .. I rate misbahs 50 in the second odi way higher than afridis garbage 80 ...!!
Munir Mar 18, 2013 02:10pm
We need to rid selfish players like Afridi, it was a useless, irresponsible self centered knock. He was not playing for the team. The tail enders performed better than him.
Saeed Mar 18, 2013 03:45pm
The writer is a narrow minded person. Afridi has been always entertaining, A game is just for entertaining not for blaming. Dnt be so curious, Just enjoy. Again the writer is ill-minded.
Indian Fan Mar 18, 2013 04:41pm
Kohli bats with spinners and on dead placid pitches of India where No.9 & 10 batsman score centuries ;),No wonder why Tendulkar holds maximum centuries on dead placid pitches.Look at his batting average again South Africa in South Africa is hardly 28.5 which is worse than many bowler's batting average on South Africa pitches.
Noman Mar 18, 2013 05:20pm
i dont think we need to change captain or want Afridi out of team. We need good heads on our shoulders. We need to understand that it was chaseable target but because of adrenaline rush we lost the match. We need motivator than proper COACH........Definitely we have talent but we need people who can make plans strategies and route of execution to win matches.
beg Mar 18, 2013 06:23pm
misbah 50 out of 85 balls was miserable,he only can do if the otherside is bowled out for 200 runs thanks to our bowlers.look what he did in 3rd odi if he would have been stayed to give support to afridi,pakistan would have won but he is very slow and useless .
beg Mar 18, 2013 06:28pm
you dont know the dyanamics of t20 and odi ,it is entertainment unlike old days test matches which were mostly drawn without even the tests are played with the speed of odi to produce results ,that the economy and fun entertainment part,public dont watch these games to be drawn or end without results.people want their moneys worth and that what afridi like players provide
beg Mar 18, 2013 06:30pm
misbah is not cool ,he is frozen in batting
beg Mar 18, 2013 06:32pm
it is not a joke to hit more than 300 sixes when the next in line is jaysuria with 270 sixes
beg Mar 18, 2013 06:48pm
it was to bowlers credit that they bowled SA for 200 runs ,nothing heroic for misbah,it was given to batsmen as piece of cake
beg Mar 18, 2013 06:51pm
with over 300 sixes ,the highest ever .he is the only international caliber player
Saleem Kazmi Mar 18, 2013 06:52pm
Afridi is alive!
khiskahua Mar 18, 2013 07:38pm
learn to spell words correctly first and then give your ignorant opinion!!!!!!!!!!!!!
farhaniqbal Mar 18, 2013 07:53pm
Dude!!! dont even go there...dude!!! just explain to me when the time was needed give a time when Misbah took home...not everybody talks about how great is Misbah's average...what good is an average when it doesnt help you at all. ha! come on dude...remember the 2007 t20 world cup...and remember the 2009 t20 world cup!! enough said!!
Adil Mar 18, 2013 08:16pm
there is not other player in the cricket history who have change a match with few balls then Afridi ... he is not front line bowler and front line batter he is a Allrounder that mean he will not perform always ... this is his end ... but you guys seems to gorget how many matches he changed with matter for few balls .... there are opposition that still fears his and have nightmare about him ......... this is without saying world about T20 WC ....Pak have the wrong expectation he is all rounder
Adil Mar 18, 2013 08:19pm
my indian friend Afredi has hit the biggest sixes in the history of cricket ....
Capt C M Khan Mar 18, 2013 08:38pm
I give a thumbs DOWN to all going gaga over the useless Afridi innings.
Muba Khan Mar 18, 2013 09:35pm
Well sir..thanks for the lovely words..if Afridi is such a bad captain why were we playing a semi final agaist India in the world cup..if he was so bad why did we loose Amir and Asif right after he left that tournament? Put some weight in your argument.
TruthTeller Mar 18, 2013 11:05pm
terrible thinking on your part if you think Misbah/Younis/Shoaib are Pakistan's future. And i absolutely agree that Afridi is not our savior as people seem to think he is ... his performance is very erratic and he's not dependable. But the bottom line is .... Pak has younger and more talented players than Misbah/Younis/Shoaib. I can only wish players played based on merits rather than age requirement which seems to be 35+ ...
Iqbal Mar 18, 2013 11:27pm
you are under rated audience as
Iqbal Mar 18, 2013 11:30pm
Indian fans definitely will support Misbah for being cool captain rather too cool since his coolness made India win semi final
saadazim Mar 18, 2013 11:39pm
drama queen is what you guys truly deserve
nafees Mar 19, 2013 12:15am
I am really sorry to say that state of our journalism, be it sport or otherwise, is so pitiful and thoughtless. So little originality. " Aamla's savoring of the finest wines", where from has the writer stolen this phrase? Aamla refused to wear a shirt advertising wine! as a promotion for the South African team. He was then censured and was made to pay fines for not wearing the shirt. Wish that we too will learn some lesson from his steadfastness to hold on to the principals and beliefs. And here we have a journalist from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, talking about Aamla and savoring of wines. Shame on you.
Ali Mar 19, 2013 01:41am
He is better off with SANIA MIRZA :P
Sachcha Mar 19, 2013 04:48am
He is using it as a metaphor, I do not understand How can you write such a reasonable English without understanding the language.
arslan Mar 19, 2013 05:23am
As a Captin Afridi suits ODI.
Mushtaq Mar 19, 2013 05:48am
Misbah can't play even test format of this game anymore but who is the replacement ?
Mushtaq Mar 19, 2013 05:52am
Personal attacks should be off table please.
Hadeel Mar 19, 2013 09:27am
This is a rather ignorant comment. Not to attack you personally but for what it's worth, the writer meant it metaphorically. You need to learn to put religion aside, cricket is a sport and quite frankly I would have liked to pop some champagne myself after the Afridi's innings. Why yes, I am from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Learn to not be an irrational individual when commenting on an article. I salute the author, great analogy, brilliant article.
observer Mar 19, 2013 09:51am
Thank you Hadeel. I was going to write more or less what you said. But my tone was going to be lot more aggressive than yours. Yet, let me present one small flower here. Name: nafees (meaning fine and refined). Character: crude, uneducated. Intellect level: Dangerously low. Conclusion: Pakistan is one of the 5 worst countries in the world and people like nafees are the reason.
Indian Fan Mar 19, 2013 06:53pm
No other present or future Captain of Pakistan or other country will ever beat ENGLAND:3-0 in 3 Test series.I am sure you guys work with betting syndicate which bets on Pakistan losing the match.
Indian Fan Mar 19, 2013 06:55pm
200 in low scoring match is more than 400.Please don't forget that was the last batting pair after top order had flopped on that piece of cake ;)