Happy birthday Shahid Afridi!
My first interaction with Shahid Afridi lasted only a couple of seconds. It was just a shake of the hand. Even still, it made my day.
It was March 16, 2004 to be exact. Pakistan had beaten India in the second ODI of the Samsung Cup and Shahid Afridi who had been recalled to the team after a long gap had played a big part in the victory scoring 80(58) and also taking two wickets for 57 runs.
Shahid Afridi, back then, was all about being carefree. You could see it in his behaviour, the way he talked, the way he moved and the way he always had a smile on his face. Everything about him screamed passion; you could see it in his bowling and you could see it in his batting and in the way he fielded.
He was a super star.
The crowd doted on him. They chanted his name and wanted him to hit a six on every ball when he came out to bat. You could see a multitude of banners vividly displaying his name alongside messages of hope; you could see the crowd going wild when he fielded near the boundary ropes.
His bowling was a bonus in those days.
My next memorable interaction with Afridi was during the 2005/06 series after he had smashed Harbhajan Singh for four sixes in an over and that too during the first Test match in Lahore scoring a magnificent 102 runs with seven sixes.
He still had that smile on his face with the slightest hint of a beard by then.
“Autograph please”, I said.
My voice barely coming out.
“Idahar lao, naam kya hai tumhara?”, he asked in his heavy voice.
(Come here, what is your name?)
I handed him the tennis ball.
“Raafay”, I said.
He signed the tennis ball. No words, nothing else written. I was disappointed, grabbing the ball with my hand and turning away.
“Left hander ho?” he said again.
“Yes,” I said.
“Cricket kheltay ho?” he said again.
(Do you play cricket?)
“Jee,” I said.
“Shaabaash, good luck,” he said.
(Well-done, good luck)
I felt overwhelmed and ran home to relate everything that happened to my parents.
He went on to score another century in the next match with the same passion that is characteristic of our Lala. By now religion was starting to play an important role in his life, it was obvious. Praying five times a day even during the match days was a normal routine for him now.
His batting was more consistent than before and his bowling was worth bowling him 10 overs during the ODI matches with four players all on the off-side to stop runs. The crowd still wanted him to hit a six on every ball and he was willing to oblige. Nothing much had changed about Afridi in the cricketing sense – he was still the same.
The last of my memorable interactions with Afridi was during the World Cup 2011.
Pakistan had beaten Sri Lanka just two days ago. Shahid Afridi was man of the match with the figures of 4/34 in his 10 overs. His beard had grown thicker, he was stronger now.
Religion had its markings on him.
“InshaAllah” was a common word in most of his conversation.
“InshaAllah we will reach the semi-final if we keep on playing like this,” he had said.
That smile still played on his face, but you could tell he was a lot more measured in everything he did now; he wanted to lead by example. His bowling had come of age in the past two to three years – easily the best leg spinner in the shorter format commentators would say.
Taking a wicket with his hands thrown in the air, legs stretched wide, standing like hero is a familiar sight for cricket lovers now, one that we all dote on.
Although Afridi has faced a rough patch, I am certain that he will bounce back in to form and please us again in the T20 series against South Africa.
As Cricinfo simplifies it,
“Of Shahid Afridi, it can safely be said that cricket never has and never will see another like him. To say he is an all-rounder is to say Albert Einstein was a scientist.”
A complete super star, easily the most loved one in Pakistan and around the world. He became a heartthrob after his first cricket match, and he still is all around the world.
Happy Birthday Shahid Afridi; no matter what transpires, you will always be a favourite for millions in the cricketing world.
This post originally appeared here.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.