Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Shahid Afridi, The Leg Spinner

Last Sunday, Sharjah hosted its first international game after 8 years. For most watching it, to have expected anything less than a maniacal Pakistani win was like deluding yourself of the legacy the venue possessed for Pakistan cricket. Yet, there were moments in both innings that suggested otherwise, but Shahid Afridi ended up being the prime difference between both sides, bossing an ODI like very few have in modern times – half of it on one knee – putting the match in a state of entropy, enabling aseries win and eventually redeeming the Pakistani pride at Sharjah.The fact that Afridi played an uncharacteristic, tail-farming and perfectly paced innings earlier in the day, to set up a modest total was legitimately surprising to many, since runs from his bat have been a rarity lately; and to have done it with such a methodological approach was heartening for his fans. However, turning the game on its head later on when Sri Lanka were cruising and taking a five-fer would not have quite amazed those who have been following his bowling progress since the past few years, he’s produced match winning spells regularly.

A quick stats check tells he has been the best spinner in ODIs this year, which includes being the joint highest wicket taker in the World Cup, and that tells a lot about his surge as a bowler considering he bowls often in tandem with Saeed Ajmal, someone who’s been equally impressive in the striking rate column.


The fact that Afridi played an uncharacteristic, tail-farming and perfectly paced innings earlier in the day, to set up a modest total was legitimately surprising to many, since runs from his bat have been a rarity lately; and to have done it with such a methodological approach was heartening for his fans. However, turning the game on its head later on when Sri Lanka were cruising and taking a five-fer would not have quite amazed those who have been following his bowling progress since the past few years, he’s produced match winning spells regularly.

A quick stats check tells he has been the best spinner in ODIs this year, which includes being the joint highest wicket taker in the World Cup, and that tells a lot about his surge as a bowler considering he bowls often in tandem with Saeed Ajmal, someone who’s been equally impressive in the striking rate column.

During the course of this study of Shahid Afridi, we shall extract other features of his renaissance as a match winning bowler, but there is a feeling that a question is bound to arise in the minds of many that did he really have it in him to be so effective?

Test Cricket

For someone who took a five wicket haul in the very first innings of his Test debut against the then-mighty Aussies, there always was an extent of promise hidden somewhere. But over the years, it never could be quite fulfilled. The almighty whammies, across-the-line hoicks and cow-corner slogs would dominate a career which initially started as a leg spin bowler selected to replace Mushtaq Ahmed; a selection that was as contrasting in the genre as it would be to listen to Cannibal Corpse after Phil Collins on your iPod.
It would be tough to argue that there weren’t patches in his bowling career that would be no less than awe-inducing. Glimpses of brilliance would be on show every once in a while, whether it be Bangalore, where a probing and artistic Test spell against the world’s best players of spin in their own backyard would puzzle Pakistanis of what could be achieved with that arm and fingers, or his longest spell (overs wise) at Faisalabad. But maybe, as was decided by his periodical retirements, the exhibition of his bowling aptitude was not meant for Test cricket, after all.


It may be a mere hypothesis here, supported by an odd interview of his, that with the birth of T20 on international stage, Afridi’s focus on bowling had a revamp. For a cricketer like him, who was destined to be the protagonist of the shortest playing format, this was perhaps the career crossroads where he hit the realization that his value to his team could increase manifold if he would return decent figures in the allotted quote of 4 overs.

And so he started doing exactly that. With an odd knock of 30 or 40, there were not many significant batting performances to boast about, but the consistent stints with the ball made sure he was a reliable bowling option for his team, often coming on as first change. Within just one year of the introduction of T20s, he ended up being the player of the first T20 World Cup, mainly for 12 wickets in 7 matches.

He’s had a number of match defining spells in the format already but perhaps the most crucial one came in the semi-final of the 2009 World Cup. Buoyed by an against-all-odd half century earlier and brought on as first change by Younis Khan, he sliced South Africa in half by going through the defences of Gibbs and De Villiers in consecutive overs with his top spin and slider. It was enough to take Pakistan to the final where he produced another clinical all-round performance. Those were two consecutive man-of-the-match gems and if it wasn’t for Dilshan’s dream run with the bat, Afridi would have been the player of the tournament once again.

As of now, he is the highest wicket taker in T20 internationals and the first one to get to 50 wickets. The economy is just a touch above 6 which, for this lunatic format, is nothing less than outstanding.  Though a 4-fer is not a regular occurrence in T20, yet he has bagged 3 of them.



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