As the pundits predicted, Pakistan lost to Australia in the quarter finals and completed its unsuccessful journey in the Cricket Word cup 2015, leaving millions of fans smashed, gutted and frustrated but then again it was writing on the wall. The way Pakistan team approached this world cup; this was bound to happen sooner or later. Our batting at full length was as feeble as Elijah Price’s bones in the chartbuster “Unbreakable”.
On the other hand, the way our players fielded, I dread; their better halves back home would be considering a ban on them from holding their infants.
Yes, it was that terrifying!
However, it’s not the end of the world. Pakistan’s cricket will rise from this like it has always done in the past. The amount of talent this country possesses in terms of cricketing skills is offensively high so it’s all good and there is nothing to be worried about.
Usually, when Pakistan exits from the knockout rounds during the world cups, it takes fans like me an entire day to get out of the melancholy and become fully functional again. This time however, something is unusual, at least for me. The reason is “Shahid Afridi”.
My cricket watching career coincidently started with that of Shahid Afridi in 1996. He was just 16 back then and I on the other hand was 9 or 10. We both were too naïve to understand this game or at least I was. I wondered that how a guy this young managed to make it to this level.
It made me curious, it made me annoyed at times too.
He didn’t wait and answered my question in just a mere week by scoring a 37-ball fastest odi century of that time. It was too much to handle for a kid like me still trying to come up in terms with cricket. Already fascinated with Wasim Akram’s banana swings, Inzamam’s lazy cover drives, Waqar Younis’s toe crushers, this freaky innings, if anything, turned me into a cricket fanatic.
The fanaticism turned into obsession in the years to follow. I never missed a single cricket match, be it test or one day, featuring Pakistan or not. Cricket, all of a sudden, had become my life. I would dream about it at night, spend my afternoons and evenings either at the ground playing cricket with friends or at home practicing my batting and bowling skills.
Fortunately for me, it was the golden era of cricket with international legends of cricket with the likes of Shane Warne, Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Coutney Walsh, Waugh brothers, Alan Donald (the list goes on) all at the top of their game. Our local legends Wasim, Inzamam, Waqar, Saeed Anwar, Saqlain Mushtaq etc were also not behind. All of them were at their peaks.
Shahid Afridi had also announced himself as a vicious hitter of the cricket ball by then. Granted license by the skipper of the team at that time Wasim Akram to play with flare, Afridi was wrecking havoc, tearing apart the bowling attacks of different countries. In doing so, he had transformed into a crowd puller, a Michael Jackson of cricket, a Boom Boom. His technique was uncomplicated: see the ball and hit it out of the ground.
That style of play continued for the rest of his career. As the time progressed, he also emerged as a useful leg spinner to compliment his devastating batting.
Afridi was not a cricketer anymore; he had become a household name, a phenomenon. I remember as how all the kids of that time wanted to bowl either like Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar or Shane Warne and bat like Shahid Afridi. I was no different. I would try to imitate him on the field but unfortunately for me, I lacked the skills and the firepower. The type of batsman he was, ones that rely primarily on their reflexes and little technique, Afridi’s hitting ability faded away with time but it still didn’t stop him from playing his shots, although it did result in the emergence of his critics.
Next few years saw the end of our legends Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Saqlain Mushtaq. One by one, they bid adieu to cricket, causing a massive void in the team that was never to be filled. I saw them depart, all of them, and it was depressing. My childhood was coming to end with their retirements, but somehow, I didn’t worry much because I knew Afridi was still there. I had declared him immortal (in my mind). I started believing, he would stay forever.
Afridi continued cricket, his performances as a batsmen had taken a massive dip. The Afridi that we once knew was losing his game. Critics attacked him, and his fans also started turning against him. This continued then all of a sudden Afridi won Pakistan the second edition of World Twenty20 in 2009 with his outstanding all-round skills to send the nation into frenzy. This momentarily silenced his critics. Post World Cup 2009, Afridi started faltering again and the knives were back at his throat again but the man of his temperament would not easily bow down to this pressure. He kept on producing spells of brilliances in patches to weather the storm.
Afridi had realized life is cruel. He learned it the hard way. Unfortunately, his passion for cricket was not fading out but he was running out of fuel in his body. He was never a talented batsman, but he was a fighter, an entertainer. He spent eighteen years trying to convince his fans.
Finally, he bowed down to the pressure and called it quit.
With his retirement, marks the complete end of my childhood. The day I never saw coming has finally arrived. His retirement also might lead to the end of my eighteen years romance with cricket. I am sure, I would not be able to see cricket in the same way.
There has never been nor there ever be another Shahid Afridi.