By Keith Miller (not that Keith Miller)
One of world cricket’s most colourful characters is set to retire after the World Cup.
Shahid “Boom Boom” Afridi announced his arrival on the international scene in remarkable style, belting a World Record century off 37 balls in Kenya in 1996 – a record that would stand for close to 20 years. Sure, the Gymkhana Club Ground in Nairobi is closer in size to a postage stamp than the MCG, but you still have to hit ‘em. And hit ‘em he did, to the tune of 11 sixes.
It marked the start of a fascinating, although sometimes turbulent, career.
The first piece of controversy came early. Whilst Afridi’s official age on debut was 16, the consensus from many was that this may have been somewhat light, with a number of people claiming his real age to be closer to 19. This is not the first occasion that such a claim has been made involving cricketers from Pakistan, where birth records are not always recorded immediately – or, therefore, accurately.
After his debut, he played 66 ODI games before starting in his first test (another record). In the test arena he played 27 matches before retiring from that form of the game – well, for the first time anyway – in 2006 to concentrate on the shortened forms of the game. Prior to the start of the World Cup, Afridi has maintained a batting strike rate of 116.79 across a mammoth 391 ODI games, and has taken an impressive 393 wickets.
Yet his test record, albeit brief, is often overlooked. Afridi smacked five centuries in his 1716 runs and averaged 36.51 with the bat. He also took 48 wickets at an average of 35.60 with his deceptive leg spin.
Shahid Afridi’s captaincy, like a number of his fellow countrymen, was turbulent at best, but can be summed up reasonably succinctly. At one stage he was captain. Then he wasn’t, but kind of was. Then he was again (briefly), and then it was all over. That didn’t last long however – at one point he was called up again. But now he’s not. Easy.
At one point rumours were abound that he was some sort of Prince. Whilst that appeared to die without trace, his legend continued regardless.
Afridi almost revolutionised the art of bowling leg breaks in short forms of the game. He developed the ability to bowl impressively quick deliveries – occasionally involving bouncers – that deceived a number of batsmen. His best bowling figures of 7/12 in ODI games was achieved against the West Indies in 2013.
Yet one of the most memorable incidents Shahid Afridi was involved in on the cricket field was truly bizarre.
In March of 2011, Pakistan were playing Australia at the WACA in the 5th match of their ODI series. At one point, a television screenshot showed Afridi chewing on the ball – yes, with his teeth – in an effort to gain an advantage whilst fielding. Called in to see Mr Match Referee, Afridi admitted his guilt, apologised, and copped a two match ban (as an aside, this was one of those occasions where Afridi was captaining the side when he wasn’t actually captain – long story).
He publicly admitted to ball tampering after the event. His defence was one of those everybody-does-it-so-I-thought-I’d-have-a crack-as-well scenarios:
“I shouldn’t have done it. It just happened” Afridi said. “I was trying to help my bowlers and win a match, one match,” he told Geo TV, a Pakistan-based news channel. “There is no team in the world that doesn’t tamper with the ball. My methods were wrong. I am embarrassed, I shouldn’t have done it. I just wanted to win us a game but this was the wrong way to do it.”
Certainly was, but such was the nature of the incident that the general public didn’t appear particularly angry with Shahid Afridi. A few were shocked, most were baffled, while the rest were simply amused.
When the curtain comes down on Shahid Afridi’s career, he will have spent almost 19 years on the international scene. He has never been too far away from the headlines, and has managed to entertain many people throughout that time
Cricket will be losing a genuine character