Little had Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan anticipated what awaited the World Champions on that fine morning of 1996 as a 16-year-old “pinch-hitter” walked out into the middle.
What ensued thereafter is history itself as the world stood numb in shock, watching a clean shaved young kid marauding his way to a 37-ball-century, slaughtering the Lankan bowlers and smashing world records en route.
Spectators had gaped in astonishment, critics had bowed down in reverence as the cricketing world acknowledged the arrival of the ‘destroyer’. To the artist, however, the ominous act had merely been a trailer to the extravagant entertainment and spellbinding cameos that were to follow in the next seventeen years.
From a promising youngster on whose shoulders expectations built up like a monument to an overrated cricketer deemed as pathetically irresponsible – Sahibzada Mohammad Shahid Khan Afridi’s journey through the highs and lows of his career hasn’t been pleasant. With unachievable expectations imposed on his unrefined talent and early fame sweeping his feet off the ground, complacency struck Afridi as ‘flattering to deceive’ became the bottom-line of his once promising career.
He had never been the blue-eyed boy of Pakistani cricket, but his fearless arrogance and pointless aggression coupled with sparks of his brilliant aptitude ensured that he could never be taken for granted. Afridi was immensely loved by his few fans, and was despised by many, but he could never be ignored.
Despite having all the ingredients for hitting the good books of critics, Afridi went on to portray himself as a dedicated showman for whom extrovert fervour and intense love for the game overshadowed the thirst for success. Here was finally a man wanting to enjoy himself on the field and go back to his bed at night dreaming about how many drops of satisfaction he had wrung. Shahid Afridi was a man who cared little for success; to him, glamour and passion was the definition of cricket.
His irrational infatuation with the game prompted him to come back from conditional retirements time and again. In a world where thriving is a challenge in itself, shattering records on a late comeback requires herculean mental strength and physical fitness. Afridi, in all his unrecognized greatness, is a character that cricket seldom witnesses.
The pertinent question that now rises irrevocably tends to explore the unpredictability of his future. One, who is familiar with the ridiculous impulsiveness of Afridi, will certainly never bet on his future, no matter how much inevitable that may seem. His recent antics, however, may declare a few relevant propositions.
While the entire world continues to drool over his heroics against West Indies a week earlier, the cynic will hesitate to read this as an omen of return from his nadir. Even for the believer, Afridi’s arbitrariness has eaten away the slightest bits of optimism. His excellence never attained its full potential; he had restricted himself to occasional bursts of brilliance that evoked memories of his unfulfilled promise.
At 32, one would be inclined to say Afridi still has quite a few years by his side, more so because he has decided to concentrated solely on limited overs cricket. But his miserable form that had turned him into a liability in the Pakistan squad prior to last week’s gallantry administers just about adequate emphasis to deter judgment in his favour.
Also, his failure to impress in the next couple of matches tends to dispose off his 7 for 12 as merely another spurt of rare brilliance.
Moreover, Afridi’s incomprehensible flexibility at making incredulously reckless career decisions means it is always futile to generalise his next step in life. Ironically enough, his cricketing form lies in perfect sync with his character, thus rendering even more ambiguity to his career.
A single performance has often been known to revive a cricketer’s career. Whether Afridi suffers similar fate is a million dollar question in itself. While Pakistan continues to reel under pressure from the non-cricketing sections of the society, cynicism and sarcasm about Pakistani cricket keeps on conquering newer heights every passing day.
The dearth of a competent all-rounder had persuaded the selectors to call for Afridi despite his forgettable performances last year. But with an infamous history of frittering away opportunities, one wonders whether Afridi will be able to sustain his place in the team. Whether he will even try to, is uncertain!
The clouds are surely back in the skies after a flash of silver in the last week. Going wicketless in matches is not at all going to assist Afridi the bowler cement a spot in the playing eleven if Afridi the batsman walks into the 22 yards with the ludicrous rationale of hitting every single delivery to the stands. He’ll be forgiven once, twice, but not always.
For a career that had always witnessed extrovert celebrations and entertaining condescension outshining cricketing logic, the conclusion had been scripted not long after its foundation. The sporadic surges of talent that Afridi obliges to showcase when he feels like are too few and far between. They may prolong his career, but are certainly incapable of reviving it.
His performance against the West Indies is sure to elevate expectations among followers regarding his involvement in the 2015 World Cup, but realists would rather prefer to play it down as just another glimpse of his gifted talent.
Then again, with Shahid Afridi on the bloc, one wouldn’t be insane enough to abandon chances of getting the probability theories miserably wrong.