76 off 55 balls and 7 for 12 – this has been the kind of explosive performance Pakistan and world cricket in general have been expecting of Shahid Afridi all his career. But, various hits and numerous mishits later, it never came. Even since Afridi rocked on to the international scene in 1996 with the fastest century that beat Sanath Jayasuriya’s record by some distance, he has been destined for greater things. However, he kept exasperating the team and his fans the world over, and never quite lived up to his potential.
Within a few years of his international debut, his then skipper Rameez Raja had to defend his constant failures with the bat, stating that he was a bowler who could bat at a bit. Indeed, Afridi’s bowling had a taken a leap, but people found it hard to forget that Afridi first made his mark as a batsman who could destroy attacks with eyes closed on his day. Years passed by, and Afridi continued to stumble along. There were brief phases of success, which explains why he has a few centuries in ODIs. But, mostly it was about him coming into bat, hitting a few boundaries, and then throwing it away. In the worst-case scenario, he just walked in walked out.
While has been in and out of the side throughout his career, in recent years he had successfully managed to stake a claim in the playing eleven constantly owing to his match-winning bowling performances. In fact, there was a brief period in his career a while back when he picked up three to four five-wicket hauls in rather quick succession, something which even regular bowlers struggle to achieve in one-day cricket. Such performance made his a must-have in the side and his poor batting was all but ignored.
Things however turned for the worse when his bowling also went downhill in recent games. He hadn’t picked up a single wicket the last six times he bowled before the latest game against West Indies and in his last nine innings before Sunday’s knock, he had registered ducks. It did not help that Pakistan also hit a lean patch during this phase. Hence, it was least surprising that Pakistan did not pick him in the Champions Trophy squad. His axing at 33 made people believe that the end had finally come for Afridi. Well, not quite.
Pakistan’s disastrous Champions Trophy outing meant a few other seniors were shown the door. At such a time, Afridi’s recall was seen by many as a step in the backward direction. After all, he had done nothing extraordinary to earn a recall. His comeback was purely based on past reputation. Some pundits opined he was past his prime. Afridi needed one match to put all speculations to rest – coming up with one of the greatest all-round ODI performances ever. Knowing Afridi, it can be guaranteed that such a spectacular effort won’t be repeated anytime soon. But his single-handed brilliance on Sunday at Guyana would stand testimony to his genius and what he could have achieved with a little more consistency.
--By A Cricket Analyst