He is the superman whose kryptonite is his own temperament. He is a Weapon of Mass Destruction that misfires 9 times out of 10. He is his team’s parachute that fails to open half the time. Cliché’s and bad metaphors aside, he is inconsistency interspersed with flashes of brilliance. I think you know who I am talking about.
Well just in case you are still clearing the cobwebs in your head, here are the magic words: Boom Boom. Boom Boom burst on to the scene as a precocious teenager who could give the ball a mighty wallop, was a terrier on steroids on the field, and well bowl some useful trash too. He was the messiah that Pakistan cricket had been begging for. Women loved him for his looks and men worshipped him for the unbridled passion he brought on the field.
Years later a lot has changed. Afridi is finally out of teens, he is a very potent bowlers now, and his batting has become more of a liability than a threat. What has not changed is his passion for the game and his fans. But has Afridi really been the best thing to happen to cricket?
I don’t think so. Afridi, all the talent and passion aside, has been a curse for cricket. Okay perhaps a curse is too strong a word but Afridi has been detrimental for the game. You don’t agree? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Afridi. I enjoy his performances despite how sporadic they are. Yet I firmly believe that he has, while solving some of Pakistan’s problems, has created new ones.
Over the years Afridi has been given umpteen chances and second chances. Every time he had a brain fade when the team needed him to play with some discretion, he wasn’t dropped or reprimanded or fined. He was allowed to continue in the same vein. Don’t give me the crap that he was allowed to play his natural game. What were the management and the seniors doing when they allowed this talent to flounder? Yes Afridi is a great player for Pakistan. But that is not good enough for someone as talented enough. He was capable of being the greatest ever player for Pakistan. But he hasn’t fulfilled even half of his potential. And who is to blame? Certainly not him.
Now today when you see players like Umar Akmal, perhaps the most talented batsman to come out of Pakistan since Anwar, show the same lack of application and consistency as Afridi how do you tell him to change? How do you make him see the whole point of batting with discretion when situation demands it? How do you tell him to curb his natural instincts when team needs him to buckle down and guide the team through?
And how do you expect him to take all that seriously when he sees a senior cricketer do that often and get away with it. You just can’t. For all that he has done, Afridi also ushered in the era where players played for those flash in a pan moments of brilliance than a long glittering career. Make a list of players who have made their debut since Afridi and then from them shortlist the names that you thought were brilliantly talented and then from that list mark those who actually made it big. Pretty small isn’t it?
For a nation like Pakistan where there is talent in great abundance is it normal for only a handful of supremely talented players to actually fulfill their potential? Or is it the Afridi phenomenon? I think it is the latter. What do you have to say?