Sunday 17 December 2017 / 03:22 PM

SHAHID AFRIDI: ENIGMA, ENTERTAINER, ICON

Last week Pakistani all-rounder Shahid Afridi announced his retirement from international cricket, ending an indefatigable career spanning two decades.

However, there was plenty of eye-rolling at the announcement considering we’ve been down this road before with Afridi, who is 36 – although even his age has been a source of derision and conspiracy with some believing he’s notably older. Admittedly, he was a mature looking 16-year-old when he burst onto the international scene.

One can never quite be assured with the temperamental shenanigans of Pakistan cricket and it would not surprise if Afridi suddenly has a change of heart and comes out of retirement. However, right now, we should take Afridi at his word and believe his international career is indeed over.

It is hard to comprehend Afridi’s career. Those who last 20 years at the international level are almost always all-timers, a standing certainly not reserved for Afridi. But why quibble over legacy about a career that was like no other. In other words, it was electrifying but exasperating; brilliant but bewildering. Undoubtedly, he is probably one of the most frustrating cricketers ever.

Afridi was seemingly gifted with blessed attributes for a cricketer. He imposed at the crease with his powerful physique, highlighted by such broad shoulders. Few have ever hit a ball harder. I remember being at the WACA ground in Perth during an ODI in 2005 when he smashed Andrew Symonds’ off-spin for one of the biggest sixes ever seen at the large ground. Of course, he holed out shortly after. Both moments left your mouth agape.

One of the reasons he endured for so long was because of his uncanny ability to bowl accurate leg-spinners, which were so effective in the shorter formats and helped prolong his career. He was extremely hard to get hold of, as evidenced by a highly impressive T20I career economy rate of 6.6. Afridi seemed to comprehend the necessary subtleties with ball that he just couldn’t grasp with bat.

There has been many maddening players over the years, but no one was quite as manic as Afridi. Temperamental tricksters such as Glenn Maxwell often infuriate with their recklessness but Afridi had his own rarefied realm when it came to exasperating.

Sometimes you just wished he simply would take a deep breath and not try to hit every ball as far as humanly possible. It is little wonder he averaged a mediocre 24 in ODIs through 398 matches and 18 over 98 T20Is. His strike rates were an incredible 117 and 150 respectively, but you feel that if Afridi had battered with a bit more sense, he could have been far more effective.

Still, in some ways, it’s pointless squabbling about whether players reached their potential. More importantly, Afridi was always compelling and entertaining. You always wanted to watch him bat, and even bowl, because anything could happen.

Afridi had the enviable ability to smash the most outrageous sixes you’re ever likely to see and, then, the unenviable knack of departing ingloriously to the most brainless batting imaginable. International cricket will seem a little less manic without the beguiling Afridi. We’ll still no doubt see him on the lucrative T20 carnival as an expensive gun for hire but it won’t quite feel the same. For better or worse, Afridi symbolised Pakistan, a team prone to haphazardness.

Shahid Afridi was cricket’s ultimate entertainer, a genuine drawcard. He will be missed.

[YouTube – Fun 4 joy]

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About the author

Tristan Lavalette

Tristan is a freelance journalist based in Perth. He has written for The Guardian, ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Previously he was a newspaper journalist for almost a decade.

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