Pakistan are Afridi

Published: July 7, 2010

Shoaib, Younis and Yousuf could never pull this pose off.

Whisper it silently, and look around for some wood just for good luck, because it seems that Pakistan may finally have a captain. For the first time since Inzamam departed, the team really has someone in charge. This is clearly Afridi’s team – unlike the shaky Shoaib Malik era and the now-I’m-in-now-I’m-out Younis Khan tenures. (No one really expected Muhammad Yousuf to last more than a few months, did they?)

The importance of a good captain cannot be overstated – unlike other popular team sports like football and basketball, the captain is a pivotal figure in cricket. Often it’s not necessarily the best player in the team, but the best natural leader. Take for instance the captaincy of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid in India. Do you remember thinking of the Indian team in 2005/2006 as Rahul Dravid’s team? But Dhoni’s team it has most definitely been over the past few years, even though it was under Dravid that India achieved several significant away wins and racked up a record breaking run of ODI victories.

Similarly, this Pakistan team has de facto belonged to Shahid Afridi since his star turn in Pakistan’s World Cup win (despite the official captaincy of Younis Khan). He brings energy, passion, raw talent, and no small amount of inspirational confidence to a side that seems to have perfected the art of ALMOST winning and then collapsing. It’s a beguiling mix that may just be what Pakistan needed after one of the most demoralising periods in any cricket team’s history – only the West Indies can provide similar levels of unprofessional conduct, infighting, and power struggles with the board.

As a captain, Afridi seems to be a mixture of Shane Warne and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Just like Warne, he is eternally young, always at the center of attention on the field (indeed demanding it), always threatening to turn a match (and often doing exactly that). He’s also a leg-spinner with a fast bowler’s mentality, similarly obsessed with his hair, and as a near living legend, a constant source of inspiration for the youngsters in the side. Just like Dhoni, though, he is always communicating with his players, has done a great job of managing prima donnas so far, and is the first to step forward in crisis situations. Although he is yet to play the gritty match-winning innings that Dhoni has carved his respect out of, Afridi came excruciatingly close against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup recently and proved beyond all doubt that he is wholly committed to the cause with an extraordinarily heroic innings – no one can ever doubt him on that count again. Both Dhoni and Afridi are also media favourites for their hairstyles, obvious muscles, and big hitting. Despite this, they’ve managed to stay largely controversy-free, a minor miracle in itself.

All of these traits shared with Warne and Dhoni fail to define the new Pakistan captain, though – nothing really can. One of the most public figures in the team for well over a decade, Afridi has managed to keep a certain sense of mystery about himself, shrouding his real thoughts with bluster and bravado (assuming he actually thinks in the first place). A perfect fit for the Pakistani cricket, he is at once both unpredictable and lethal—seemingly at will.

Even the business world has recognised the value of Shahid Afridi as team captain and Pakistan’s team in England has sported a Boom Boom kit that is suitably some way from being the finished product – Shoaib Akhtar’s shirt read AKHIAR, and there are some very curious dark green patches on the armpits. Boom Boom is a new sporting goods company endorsed by Afridi himself, Abdul Razzaq, Mohammad Aamer, and Fawad Alam – and getting loads of free advertising from the hundreds of Boom Boom banners waved wherever the team plays! Could there be a more visible sign of one person’s influence on the rest of the team?

Of course, this can sour quickly too. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see a group of players leading a revolt against their popular captain; a series of abject collapses in the Test series wouldn’t be completely out of the blue. The reality is still that Australia is the best team in the world, and that Pakistan is not even in the top 5, especially not in Test cricket. Few if any batsmen have the technique to play in good swinging conditions on even slightly grassy pitches, and the team’s talisman, Afridi, hasn’t played Test cricket in years. Recent success has relied heavily on spin bowling, and Mohammad Aamer is the only truly fit Pakistani bowler – and he’s just 18 (well, officially)! Umar Gul has just returned from injury and has always been a little fragile, while the less said about Shoaib Akhtar the better. I personally supported him and his success long after everyone had nothing but criticism for him, and while I will be happy to be proven wrong if he plays an important role in Pakistani success this summer, I think he’s finished. Pakistani fans are reminded to keep their expectations in check.

In any case, Afridi’s captaincy provides hope to Pakistani fans who will look forward to a team that competes hard, even if it ultimately loses.

nabeel.shakeel

Nabeel Shakeel Ahmed

A public policy student, blogger, freelance journalist, and photographer.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Hassaan Ainul Yaqin

    Well-written piece I must say. However, I do disagree on several counts with the writer. The overbearing significance of Shahid Afridi is yet to bear fruit in the long run. Even though the results seem to coming right now, he certainly isn’t the best captain we could have hoped for. He’s only the best available option in the current circumstances. At times Afridi’s captaincy has lacked imagination and ‘Plan Bs’ really. He’s still young in his job. Maybe he will learn, maybe he won’t. It’s too early to draw conclusions out of a short tenure at the top. While Shoaib Malik indulged in power holding, Mohammad Yousuf never really had the mentality to be the captain in any sense. Younis Khan’s no-nonsense attitude led to a revolt. And you can’t rule that out in Afridi’s case even given he’s a stiff Pathan who would not tolerate any ‘power play’ within the team.Recommend

  • Talha Sheikh

    I certainly agree…Afridi has something the previous recent captains didn’t have before, the overwhelming support from the public. Inzamam enjoyed it to a certain degree, but not the fanbase Afridi has.however iwth Pakistan cricket, unfortunatley it takes a pathetic performance in a series for any player/captain to lose his respect. i am afraid it will be Afridi’s downfall as well in the test captaincy. if he doesn’t come out with all guns blazing, himself as well as the team, his test captaincy will be under huge pressure. Recommend

  • Imad

    Good one, i totally agreed with the blogger as afridi no only the best available choice but he will also be the best captain in the histtory of Pakistan, i mean look as the attitude man, he surely has got something in himself. my best wishes are always be with himRecommend

  • http://- Akbar

    Pak team has all the ingredients of a good fighting unit but still looked depleted because of lack of good leadership. Afridi has energised the team by his high voltage performances. He has shown the way to revive our cricket but it is still too early. Watch for the parasites because they may derail our cricket . It,s necessary to support the captain against underminers,knowing fully well that there is no dearth of conspirators in a team like Pak. All praise for Afrdi for leading from the front & giving confidence to the young players. He has shown his intentions of not being afraid of testing the young blood. We support Afridi in his quest for restoration of team unity & confidence.Recommend

  • http://nsahmed.wordpress.com Nabeel

    I agree with everyone expressing doubts – it’s too early to draw conclusions, and come on,this is the Pakistan cricket team! Everything that COULD go wrong, DOES go wrong – and then some!

    My point, ultimately, is that Afridi has taken control of the team in a way that few of his predecessors have ever been able to, and this has inspired both the teams and fans. Let’s hope that it brings sustained success – but let’s remember that’s an unrealistic expectation.Recommend

  • Hassaan Ainul Yaqin

    As I said, speaking too soon it was. An insanely stupid act of immaturity by Shahid Afridi to resign as captain. Yet again we go the entire cycle of a new captain, doubting players, and changing team combination. I am actually disappointed in Shahid Afridi right now. He plays his first test in four years and gives up. Clearly reflects he was being desperate to hold on to captaincy in all forms of the game. The man who held his arms aloft at Lord’s last year has sunk to the bottom of respect list only a year later.Recommend

  • http://nsahmed.wordpress.com Nabeel

    I agree. Very disappointing decision. He should have been a little more patient and tried harder.

    That said, perhaps its best that he’s leaving quickly and not staying on until forced out. If Butt can take over the reigns for the long term, that would be great. However, I doubt that will happen, for a multitude of reasons.

    I don’t agree with the desperation school of thought though. Everyone, including Afridi, has known for years that he’s not a Test player. In that case he shouldn’t be playing in Tests, that’s all. He can continue to captain ODIs and T20s, and depending on how well he and Butt can manage the dressing room, it might work out.

    We don’t necessarily have to go through the entire cycle. My guess is that Afridi will still keep a major role in managing the team, but go to the background for Tests.Recommend