Shahid Afridi: From Enigma To Tournament-Finisher
For so long Shahid Afridi has been regarded as an enigma of international cricket. Aged just 16 he scored an ODI century against Sri Lanka from just 37 balls and this remains a record for the fastest ever ODI century.
However, for much of his career Afridi has disappointed with the bat. His adoring fans refer to him as "Boom Boom" in reference to his ability to hit huge sixes, and he once again demonstrated this in 2007 in Abu Dhabi against Sri Lanka, when he struck 32 runs in one over bowled by Malinga Bandara - the second most expensive over in ODI cricket.
Afridi has also been caught up in his fair share of controversy. In 2005, when England were touring Pakistan, the players left the field as a loud bang that had gone off was feared to be a bomb. As it turned out, it was the explosion of a gas cylinder which supplies the players drinks at the drinks break but Afridi, who was caught on camera, danced up and down the wicket in a bid to scuff up the track and as a result he was banned for the next Test match and first two ODIs against England.
Indeed it has been Afridi's bowling that until a few days ago was more impressive in this tournament, regularly picking up wickets and his spell of four for 11 against Holland was an exhibition of quality leg-spin bowling, varying his pace and simply outfoxing the batsmen.
In addition to the excellent bowling, Afridi completed an excellent catch against New Zealand at the Oval to dismiss Scott Styris, and it is a moment that quite possibly changed the fortunes of Pakistan in the World Twenty20.
In the semi-final and final, the loyal Pakistan and Afridi supporters got just what they wanted, runs from Boom Boom, perhaps not in the way that they might have thought, although his strike rate was still extremely healthy, his 50 against South Africa in the semis came off 30 balls while his knock of 54 yesterday came off 40 balls and only included two maximums.
Afridi's success with the bat in the last couple of games completed an incredible transformation, and we witnessed a player as experienced as Afridi is, mature in front our very eyes, and outgoing Twenty20 captain Younus Khan said that he was even surprised with the way Afridi had played his last two innings.
"It was a surprise even for me; he batted so responsibly just when we needed it," he said. "He scored in ones and twos which is also a surprise! But he did what was needed for the team and we all know he is a match winner for us."
Afridi may not have been man of the tournament, (that accolade went to Tillakaratne Dilshan, who was the leading run-scorer) but Afridi's performances in the two crunch games, show that not only is he a match-winner, he has also a tournament-finisher and Pakistani fans will always remember the sight of their hero, holding that bat in the air along with his other arm, in a statue like pose with a huge grin on his face, as 17 years of waiting were over.
© Cricket World 2009