Afridi changed cricket for ever, now he's out

He has bid goodbye to international cricket.

 |  4-minute read |   20-02-2017
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I clearly remember that day: October 4, 1996. I was in school and a diehard cricket maniac. The men in blue were the only ones that I dreamt of. A friend told me that a Pakistani cricketer had slammed a century off 37 balls.

I was so surprised that I immediately challenged the information and went into a bet with that friend. I lost the bet the next day, when all newspapers were screaming at the top of their voices and hailing the emergence of a sensation on the firmament of cricket. The rest is history.

In October 1996 at the tender age of 16 years, Shahid Afridi was included into the Pakistan one-day international (ODI) team for the four-nation Sameer Cup (1996-97) as a spinner and replacement for the injured Mushtaq Ahmed.

Afridi made his debut against Kenya, but didn't bat and was wicket-less. In the next match, which was against Sri Lanka, he was promoted up the batting order and was sent in at number three as a pinch-hitter.

And the carnage that followed is the stuff that folk tales are made of. During his first ODI innings, Afridi scored a scorching hundred from 37 balls. The record for the fastest century in ODI cricket lay shattered. His eleven magnificent sixes - the most in an ODI innings - made him the poster boy of world cricket.

At the age of 16 years and 217 days, Afridi became the youngest player to score an ODI century - and what a century! For days and months to come, people in India debated over Afridi’s age, with many calling his records doubtful - such was the scale of his achievement. Afridi also holds the record for the maximum number of sixes in ODIs.

Backed by the power-packed and unbelievable performance, Pakistan scored 371 - the second-highest total in ODIs and won by 82 runs. Obviously, Afridi was chosen as the man of the match, the aggressive youth who had changed the game forever.

Till then batting was all about class and technique - a classy on-drive by Azharuddin or a straight ground-kissing drive by Sachin Tendulkar being the stuff of legends. With Afridi’s innings, all that changed. Throwing all such considerations to the wind, he overnight became the most talked about cricketer in the world.

Whether he performed or not, the moment Afridi took to the pitch, the opposition knew there was a batsman who had the ability to turn any game on its head and that too within no time. No wonder, he came to be known as Boom Boom Afridi.

There was only one way that he knew to play and that was to send the ball rocketing into the stands. Closely stationed fielders and umpires would sometimes be seen ducking the flat shots, hit with such immense power that refuge was the only option left.

It took 18 years for the fastest century ODI record to be broken when New Zealand cricketer Corey Anderson hit 131* (January 1, 2014) off 36 balls. The record was broken just a year later by South-African AB de Villiers who scored a century off 31 balls (January 18, 2015).

With the T20 becoming so popular and the entire approach and format of cricket undergoing such a change, it would not be surprising before this one also gets broken.

But back then, it was incredible and unbelievable. Now, to think that Afridi has taken a bow from international cricket reminds me of the years of early adulthood and the cricket fever that used to grip the nation on sleepy afternoons. The excitement that he generated just through his swagger on the ground.

The Boom Boom man says: "I have said goodbye to international cricket," adding: "I am playing for my fans and will continue to play this league for another two years but it's goodbye from international cricket."

For many the decision may not have come as a surprise. Afridi played his last international Test in 2010 and retired from ODIs after the World Cup in 2015. However, he continued playing T20 matches and led Pakistan in the 2016 World T20. Since then, Afridi has not been picked.

These days he is a philanthropist and owner of the Shahid Afridi Foundation and was named in 2015 as among the top 20 most charitable athletes in the world. Well, whatever it is, there is only one way to his madness: cricket pitch or not.

Afridi would always be known as the batsman who stormed the world of cricket with his aggressive batting and etched his name along with the other greats of the game.

Also read: Pakistan doesn't deserve World T20 champion Shahid Afridi

Writer

Muqbil Ahmar Muqbil Ahmar @muqbil_ahmar

The writer is a theatre activist, film critic and blogger who wants to bring harmony in society. Music, poetry and food are his passions.

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