Waqar’s resignation brings Afridi back into the frame

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We’re an unforgiving nation. All it takes is a mini-bulletin of farfetched fixing allegations or indeed a snap with a blondie within a six-inch propinquity and bam – the axe is out. But, one man has cracked the code of perpetual devotion (and of age-control). He goes by the name of Shahid Afridi.
And he’s back! Afridi is set to lead Karachi Dolphins and with Waqar Younis stepping down, he would be putting fourth his stake to the captaincy after the Zimbabwe tour. Although apparently he has retired from international cricket but it looks as if Afridi is already setting the ground for his return by suggesting that the PCB should do away with a head coach and instead appoint a powerful manager under whom specialised batting, fielding and bowling coaches should work. Hence, if he manages to patch things up with Ijaz Butt, soon he might be back doing what he does best – nothing.
The Butt-Afridi soap opera had its roots in the latter’s disregard for his accountability as the captain of the team. The former captain wants all strings tied to his belt, and when some authority tries to do his job, he throws his toys out of the pram. (These toys run the whole gamut from an ‘Afridi 10’ doll with a la World Cup dismissal celebration to the ‘Boom Boom’ cannon which can shoot the ball miles).
Even his irresponsible rant against Waqar Younis, a living legend of Pakistan cricket, couldn’t instigate a murmur of discontent among the public – how does he do it!?
While Afridi’s popularity amongst 14 year old girls is graspable, the fact that cricketing connoisseurs all over the country would reach out for your neck if you dared to criticise their darling defies belief. There is an exodus from stadiums following his dismissal and despite his heedlessness we have made him the face of Pakistan cricket. Is our cricketing knowledge restricted to admiring nut-head slogging? Despite having done the square root of naught, Shahid Afridi has been peddled as a cricketing super-hero!
Before we unravel the myriad layers of Shahid Afridi – the man, let’s endeavor to solve the mystery that would leave even Agatha Christie fanatics with a baffling rendezvous. Shahid Afridi – the cricketer is akin to a Christie whodunit. How can someone who has refrained from even an iota of responsibility be allowed to represent a nation for over 15 years? Oh and it gets prodigiously worse, he was deemed fit enough to lead the side!
So how can one classify Afridi – the cricketer? Calling Shahid Afridi an all-rounder is like calling a toothless reindeer an omnivore. His batting has metamorphosed into that proverbial needle in a haystack that has been magnetically fluxed out. In his previous 86 ODIs since May 2007, our flamboyant (read overhyped) cricketer has gathered three scores of 50 or more, ignoring cricketing powerhouses Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
Oh, but “he’s a flair player and can turn the game on its head.” Spot on! One moment we’re trodding along nicely and then a habitual top-edge towards mid-wicket later, the game is turned upside down and we have Razzaq and Gul battling to clean up the ‘Boom Boom’ mess. David Lloyd must be lamenting the creation of that epithet, because the only Boom we hear nowadays is Afridi’s brain detonating when he needs to act responsibly. Let’s count his ‘match-winning’ performances with the willow in a crisis, facing a stiff run chase. We have 15 years worth of cricket and no, we’ll not need the other hand.
“I am in the team as a bowler, and batting is my bonus,” Afridi says and he has evolved into a staggering bowler, after all he was the leading wicket taker in the World Cup! Before you put on your rose-tinted glasses to search for a knife to bust my guts open, let me unveil a few precious stats. Of the 21 wickets that our bowling ‘virtuoso’ took in the World Cup, 14 were against Canada, Kenya and West Indies. In his last 66 ODIs, Afridi has managed to take more than two wickets in a single match on five occasions, three of which were the aforementioned ‘miracles’ in the World Cup. When there is a question mark over his integrity, we seem to muddle up the terms ‘match-winning’ and ‘useful’. While Afridi has turned out to be useful with the ball (especially in the T20s), he is still a poor man’s Anil Kumble at best.
If Afridi is a match-winning bowler then so are Yuvraj Singh, Michael Yardy and Michael Clarke. If his career tally of wickets propels him towards eminence then Sanath Jayasuriya is a shoe-in for spin bowling ‘Hall of Fame’.
Following the World Cup, Afridi was flaunted as the “Unifier of the Nation”. After the Mohali defeat, current captain Misbah-ul-Haq was the unanimously sanctioned scapegoat as his turtle-esque innings was declared selfish. Misbah was castigated, but no heed was paid to the captain’s absurdity who had ‘fixed’ the power-play for the last five overs. Under those instructions, delaying the onslaught was the prudent thing to do. While Misbah’s batting was by no means in complete accordance with the scenario, what made the situation calamitous was the fact that no one (including You-Know-Who) bothered to stick with him.
Misbah is the antithesis of Afridi. Reliable and regimented, he has easily been the best batsman in the team recently. His handling of the Test side and the fact that he actually stands up to responsibility, make him a fitting leader. With Misbah, we’ll only remember ‘that’ scoop down Sreesanth’s throat in 2007 or the blocked shots at Mohali, and completely ignore the times when he dug us out of hole once too often. But with Afridi we are willing to leave work, estrange wives and glue ourselves to the television sets to watch the three-minute cameo he regularly serves us.
Afridi’s tale is really about how mediocre skill coupled with a self-obsessed aura eventually led to a shallow craving for limelight. Media did the rest and exaggerated even the minutest of his achievements. His pop-star looks made him the perfect poster boy, his self-pointing celebrations got him attention and he started believing his own hype. The nation fell prey to this theatrics. Dragging a fast bowling great to an unceremonious farewell, regularly orchestrating a power-play circus– Afridi’s leadership legacy is a blend of Woody Allen comedy and Shakespearean tragedy.
When players teamed up against Miandad we called him a spoiled brat, when Wasim Akram couldn’t perform for two matches in a row we labeled him a match-fixer, whenever Inzi ran himself out we chanted “Aalu Aalu”… but when Afridi lets us down for the 2143513491741st time we extol his spell against Canada and put his face on our facebook display picture.

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