Among the many unknowable in the world of Shahid Afridi, there is a rock-solid certainty. Everyone knows when he played his first match. And everyone in Pakistan who is over 30 probably knows where he was and what he did when Afridi played his second match.
October 2, 1996 may be a generation away, but Cecil Pervez, who was in high school in Pakistan at the time, recalls the seriousness of the event. “I do not know if this match was aired in Pakistan, but I did not see it live, but the moment it got to this century, the whole country knew, half of them may not even have the innings but everyone knew what he had done. “
For the next few years, Pervez, along with most of his friends, wanted to be “Shahid Afridi.” To meet him – no, sharing the same room as him – was something they could only dream of. And when Cecil moved to Canada in 2000, he had moved so far from his childhood idol.
Earlier this week, Cecil was among several Brampton Wolves local players who introduced themselves to the rest of the international stars. Cecil told them that he was a medium-pacer playing for Canada. “And then I said, ‘Shahid Bhai, I play for the Shahid Afridi Cricket Club.” He stuck his head out and nodded, knowing he was playing for her, but he still gave me a nice smile. “
Sher abi zinda hai🇵🇰😀 https://t.co/9OfveimgSa— Shahid Afridi (@SAfridiOfficial) July 29, 2019
It has taken 23 years, but Afridi has inadvertently turned some childhood fantasies into adults’ reality. If you forget how long ago he was there, Afridi will remind you of his longevity.
A questioner at a press conference – after Afridis 40-Ball 81 helped Brampton Wolves to a comfortable victory against Edmonton Royals in the second edition of the GT20 – said, “Many Canadians have seen their miracles for the first time. I mean here in this part of the world. Your eyelash was so special today … “
When did Afridi interrupt with, “You did not see the Sahara Cup in 1997? “The questioner chuckled: “Sahara Cup! The under-25s were not even born then. “
Afridi has not denied the point. But it was a reminder that he remains the most durable of all active cricketers. He began his international career well before Gayle, Shoaib Malik and Yuvraj Singh. His coach at Brampton Wolves, Lance Klusener, debuted in the same year as he did.
And yet. Afridi continues to play as Afridi has always played. Batting is such a difficult craft that it requires batsmen to evolve, taking into account the age and transformation of the game. It turns calmed practitioners into chargers. And often makes warring players more restrained.
Afridi has probably undergone some changes, but the joy he conveys – and the anticipation awaiting his arrival – seems to indicate that he has largely remained the same. Afridi had not played cricket for four months – since the PSL. So today he decided to take on “five or six balls”, measure the conditions and the pitch, and then start bowling.
Three balls were enough as a sifter. The fourth was cut to the back fence. The fifth and the sixth were kept away. The seventh was pushed to the third man fence. The eighth shot for another four. And the ninth was angled gently at the third man four more times. Afridi was now on 18 of 9 balls. The crowd was on their feet. And the launcher ran for cover. It could have been 97. Or 2004. Or anytime, really, in this famous career.
Later in the game, Afridi took the wicket from Mohammad Hafeez and celebrated with his signature “Starman”. After the match, he was asked if he would consider attending the World T20 next year. He said he did not have such plans, but honestly, would anyone be surprised if Afridi actually withdrew his decision to withdraw? And would anyone be surprised if he lit the next World T20? Or the after that?
Much of Afridi’s charm lies in its immutability. It does not matter how old he is or where he plays. The conversation around him is largely the same. The anticipation is just as intoxicating. And the expectation is always limited – every time the ball approaches.
There was a moment today when Afridi Ben Cutting broke for a six and a four to get 54 out of 24 balls. A look at the scorecard and the mind instinctively performed a quick calculation. Forty-six runs in 13 balls required. Five sixes and four fours would do it. Could he? Would he?
The point was not whether Afridi would get a hundred of 37 balls. The point was, after all these years, he made viewers still imagine the possibility. That alone tells us so much.