Almost 19 years ago on 2 October 1996, Shahid Afridi made his debut in international cricket against Kenya. Bought in initially as a leg spinner the flamboyant power hitter made an immediate impression with the bat in hand scoring the fastest century in ODI history, at that point of time, in his second match against Sri Lanka. Since then Afridi has never looked back and has taken his aggressive batting style across the world earning the nick name of “Boom Boom” in the process. Like any other athlete, Afridi has millions of fans in the world however; recently Afridi has become one of the most polarizing subjects in Pakistan Cricket. A lot of fans believe that Afridi is the reason behind Pakistan’s dip in form in T20 international. The negative backlash was especially intense after last night’s defeat at the hands of Bangladesh, the loss ended Pakistan’s Asia cup campaign rather disappointingly, with Afridi being labeled as the root cause of the defeat. Some fans went as far as saying that, Afridi should only focus on television commercials. Last night in Lahore fans also burned a giant effigy of Afridi in his trademark pose. After witnessing this entire negative backlash a barrage of questions immediately arises; was Afridi the sole reason for elimination in the Asia cup and is it right to demean an individual who has served his country for more than 20 years or are the fans right that the great Shahid Afridi has lost his touch?
Recently Ajay Jadeja made some remarks about Afridi that in a nutshell explained his playing style and why criticism on his attitude wasn’t justified. He argued that fans who criticize Afridi for his hitting style should realize that they made him a star because of this very style. He further said that in nineteen years Afridi has never altered his playing style, staying in same direction from day one. Furthering his point as I mentioned in an article earlier this week, it is sad to see how Pakistani fans are hypocritical in their criticism. At one end when Afridi helps Pakistan win a match they endlessly praise him however, on the other end if his performance in a particular match is not up to the mark he is the one who gets all the blame for the loss. In the Asia cup the case was similar as the top order consistently failed to give the team a good start. Fans need to realize that if the entire batting order is sent packing for 35 runs in the first seven overs, than there is very little Afridi can do to help the team. Plus, another thing that fans need to take in to account is that although his batting form has declined, Afridi has consistently bowled well and economically in the last few T20 Internationals. Even in the match against Bangladesh last night he was consistently troubling the batsman and ended with economic figures of 1 for 20. While for the past year Shahid Afridi has been off color, that doesn’t change the fact that he is an impact player who can take the game away from the opposition in a matter of minutes. A lot fans argue that he is responsible for the losses of the team in many games however; Afridi has an average of winning a man of the match award after every 11.6 matches. This average is better than greats like Kumar Sangakara, Rahul Dravid and Mahela Jayawardene. This particular stat certainly highlights Afridi’s match winning ability.
It is said that you don’t realize the importance of someone until you lose them, while currently the fans want Shahid Afridi to retire in the longer term they don’t realize that his retirement will mean that there is no lower order batsman who can hit sixes at will and finish the match in difficult situations. In One day internationals Pakistan is already facing this problem as Anwer Ali is also consistently disappointing the fans in the role of a finisher.
Criticism from fans and media is something that should be encouraged as it not only highlights the mistakes of the team it also makes sure that people who are responsible for those mistakes are held accountable. However, sometimes fans just go too far in laying the blame of a loss on one individual. For example, Pakistan team lost the Asia cup because of poor team selection and the lack of ability of our players to handle pressure in tough situations. This was clearly evident as in the second last over Mohammad Sami not only bowled one but two no balls completely changing the match in Bangladesh’s favor. Such a rookie mistake was the result of extreme pressure that our batsman put the bowlers in by making a modest total on a decent track. Blaming only Afridi for the loss in my opinion was very unfair. Yes! He is the captain of the team but he hasn’t taken the responsibility to change the game in every situation. The defeat also hid the fact that Afridi also captained the side impressively and used his bowlers well, had that over of Mohammed Sami only yielded six or seven runs than even Anwer Ali, who is not considered the best death bowler, had the chance to defend the remaining runs. It is said that victory hides all negatives on the other hand a defeat hides all the positives and that was exactly the case with Shahid Afridi’s captaincy last night.
At the end of the day it is important to realize that Shahid Afridi is one of the last cricketers of Pakistan who is still considered a star across the globe and remarks that he is only good at modeling should be avoided by fans as it is extremely disrespectful. Furthermore, criticizing Afridi’s batting style is also bizarre as in the current set of cricket this kind of aggressive and positive intent in players is what teams look for. Glen Maxwell, AB de Villiers, Darren Sammy and Martin Guptill all are players who play with the style that Afridi has made popular for the last nineteen years. Afridi wasn’t the only one who was responsible for the team’s elimination from the Asia cup, the entire team management was equally responsible and it is the responsibility of the cricket board to come up with quick solutions so that the team can get their act right before the world cup. In the current set up of the Pakistani team Shahid Afridi is not a burden on the team, on the contrary, he is last of a dying breed of Pakistani cricketers who are national celebrities and it is our responsibility as fans to recognize his contributions.