Evergreen is an adjective often thrown Shahid Afridi’s way with the former Pakistan all-rounder now into his fourth decade as an active cricketer.
At the age of 39, the Pakistan man is showing no signs of slowing down just yet with his most recent exploits in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL).
Even by his own revelation in an autobiography, Afridi’s actual age has been a subject of constant debate ever since he made his international debut as a 16-year-old.
When you meet him in person, Afridi does not look a day over 30 as the all-rounder retains a youthful glow. Still lean and fit, the all-rounder does not bear the semblance of a man who retired from international cricket two years ago. The passion for the game still runs strong and the sight of him performing his trademark celebrations will not be going out of fashion any time soon.
“It depends on my fitness and Alhamdulillah and I am fit so far,” the former Pakistan skipper told Sport360 in an exclusive chat on the sidelines of the Expo 2020 Dubai cricket final.
“Also, unless you are passionate about something then that thing quickly becomes very boring. I am still passionate about cricket and I want to play cricket.
“After the Bangladesh Premier League, I have the Pakistan Super League, which I consider my own, since it is my country’s brand. Let’s see, how well my performance goes and there are lots of other factors. I don’t like thinking or looking too much into the future, every day is new and beautiful one for me.”
Afridi’s international career has been a strange one to say the least, with the Khyber District-born born initially picked in the Pakistan team as a leg-spinner. However, it was his swashbuckling batting which defined his early period in international cricket with the right-hander slamming a then world-record 37-ball century in only his second ODI outing.
A true pinch-hitter, the Pakistan man kept popping up with the occasional batting brilliance including a 45-ball ton against India in Kanpur in 2005. With more than 8,000 runs and the record for the most ODI sixes (351), Afridi’s batting exploits are the stuff of legend.
While his style might have been more suited to the shorter formats, Afridi did have his moments in Test cricket. The one knock which sticks out is his 141 in the second innings of the Chennai Test (1999) against India. Overshadowing a heroic show by Sachin Tendulkar, Afridi’s innings was instrumental in scripting a famous 12-run win for Pakistan.
“I think our performances against India are always considered massive and everyone takes notice of them,” he stated.
“The most special thing about this inning was that I was not supposed to go for this tour. I was not in the squad, but the selection committee supported me a lot. I didn’t have a lot of support from anyone else, so it was a challenge for me.
“Just the fact that I got to play was special and then the entire inning became very important for me. The series was huge and it is always fun playing against India.”
Ultimately, though, it was Afridi’s bowling skill which supplanted his batting pedigree with the all-rounder ending his Pakistan career with 541 international wickets.
“When I am doing well in batting, I consider myself a batsman and when I am doing well as a bowler, I consider myself a bowler,” Afridi quipped.
“I wasn’t as consistent as I should have been as a batsman, but as a bowler, I was consistently good as a bowler. At one point, I had taken most of the wickets for two to three years consecutively for Pakistan.
“So, in my opinion, more than my batting, it’s my bowling that has gotten the team to win most of the matches – where I took wickets at crucial moments. However, people used to look forward to my batting.”
The Pakistan all-rounder has had some fascinating duels over the years with several players – both with bat and ball. Two opponents, however, stick out for Afridi.
“Glenn McGrath is a kind of bowler, especially with the new ball, who was not at all easy to play against. Especially, when I was opening for Pakistan.
“If we talk about batsmen, then Brian Lara was the toughest to bowl to. I have never seen a player like (Lara), it was just totally up to his mood when he wants to hit a six or a four. He was in a class of his own.”
When it comes to the current era of cricket stars, Afridi has many favourites including Pakistan’s very own batting prodigy Babar Azam.
“Even today, we have loads of great players and it’s always fun watching them play. Players like Virat [Kohli], [Steve] Smith, [Kane] Williamson, or Babar [Azam],” he said.
“We have high expectations of Babar. So, after all these big players, we have these others who are in the process of making a name for themselves. And Babar Azam is very much capable of making a name for himself in the world.”
When it comes to the subject of all-rounders, though, Afridi believes the current crop does not really match up to the standards set by some former greats.
“For now, I don’t think I see a very promising all-rounder. For example, before we had [Andrew] Flintoff and Jacques Kallis, but right now I have not seen a player of that calibre yet. If I were to take someone’s name, then I have to really think hard, it’s not something that comes to me instantly,” he explained.
But then there is Ben Stokes…
“Yeah, now that you have mentioned, yes, he is a very good player. Since we don’t have that many, it’s hard to even remember their names.
“But definitely, he is a great player and so far, I think he is the backbone of the England cricket team.”
While he might not have a high opinion of the some of the all-rounder’s in the game currently, Afridi will certainly hope to show some of his own all-round skills when the fifth edition of the Pakistan Super League gets under way later this month. The veteran has been named as the skipper of the Multan Sultans franchise ahead of the upcoming edition, and will hope to lead the team to maiden title glory.
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