Out of form and out of practice, Pakistan were playing like a cutlery drawer full of spoons at the start of the tournament but literally improved with every game.
Shahid Afridi played like a grown-up today, which is again missing the point of Shahid Afridi. But being as he won the World Cup for his nation, we aren’t going to be too critical of him for that. Shahid Afridi embracing sense sits uncomfortably, but it’ll never last. The man’s devoted his entire life to pointless risk-taking with the bat. He’s probably got ‘playing the ball on merit’ out of his system already.
Pakistan had the best bowling attack and it’s nice to see that count in Twenty20. Far from being a barrage of sixes, the World Twenty20 was chock full of awkward yorkers and slower balls. It was ace.
It pains us that a whole generation of young cricket watchers won’t ‘get’ Shahid Afridi.
Even after watching him hit 51 off 34 balls, they still won’t get it. Twenty20 has legitimised the Shahid Afridi approach to batting and legitimacy has no place in the world of Shahid Afridi. Shahid Afridi hit the fastest ever international hundred in his first innings for Pakistan. Shahid Afridi has tried to better that in every innings ever since, whether in form or out of form; whether in a Twenty20 run chase or trying to save a Test.
The man is a warped genius blessed with some kind of invisible forcefield that protects him from reason and common sense.
His bowling’s brilliant as well, but again that’s to not ‘get’ Shahid Afridi.
Shahid Afridi embodies the reasons why cricket needs Pakistan.
Here’s a man who’s most famous for his ludicrously single-minded determination to hit every balll he faces into the moon, as if it’s somehow wronged him with its offensive nocturnal luminescence. That’s Shahid Afridi’s thing. That’s what he does.
Yet he’s also someone who can take 6-38 to beat Australia with his fast-medium leg-breaks, despite barely playing an international match of note for more than a year.
Where England lose matches by each player being a bit worse than his opposite number, Pakistan lose matches through breathtaking collective incompetence.
Where England win matches through each player being a bit better than his opposite number; Pakistan win matches through any one of their number defying probability and good sense to do something outrageous.
Shahid Afridi seems to be quite the Twenty20 bowler. As skchai said in the comments: “Perhaps that is another aspect of his “Afridiness” – he is only effective bowling to other Afridis (not the members of his Pashtun clan, but rather players who play like him).”
Perhaps the ‘what would I do?’ approach to getting inside the batsman’s head is a major factor in his success – he took 3-18 as Pakistan beat Sri Lanka yesterday.
There’s also his unique bowling style. The shorter the format, the weirder the bowling required it seems. That seems to be the general consensus in international cricket. One over to go? ‘Bowl something weird,’ they all shout. ‘That’ll surprise them’.
80mph leg breaks are pretty weird.
We’re still siding with Pakistan as our tip for the tournament. A limp performance against India has been offset by a realisation. Pakistan’s plethora of all-rounders means they can afford to pick a specialist batsman to bat at eight. Yesterday it was Misbah-ul-Haq who’s got the rare distinction of having scored a Twenty20 hundred. Handy.
Because the Twenty20 World Cup is Shahid Afridi’s, surely.
Against Scotland yesterday, he hit 22 off seven balls, which is actually useful in Twenty20 cricket and then took 4-19, which is useful in any form of cricket.
We originally thought that Twenty20 cricket wouldn’t show Afridi in his best light. Indeed we still do. The whole point of Shahid Afridi – and he might disagree with us on this – is that he plays in that ludicrous manner whatever the form of the game and whatever the match situation.
In Twenty20, with everyone else playing the same way, Shahid Afridi’s essential Shahid Afridiness is diluted. In Test cricket he stands alone. In Twenty20 he’s less of a one-off.
On the other hand, who in world cricket has had more practice playing this way than Shahid Afridi? No-one. Because Shahid Afridi’s been using Test cricket and conventional one-day internationals as net practice for the last ten years.
We’re backing Pakistan (as well as England) in this tournament. Why? Because of their consistency and reliability, that’s why. No, it’s actually because we think the Pakistanis have grown up with this kind of cricket and might therefore have a slight advantage.
Shahid Afridi comes from the great Pakistani tape ball tradition, where you try and slog a tennis ball, which has been semi-taped for added weight and potential swing, for as many runs as possible in as short a time as possible and the only way to stop a batsman is to get him out. Perfect preparation for Twenty20 cricket.