His presence is wondrous, his batting stance evokes fear and you can see the shadow of his fans shouting “Boom Boom” in his eyes.
Shahid Afridi is arguably the most loved cricketer in Pakistan’s history, and his success is celebrated as a national festival, each and every time.
He alone, can unite his nation with the bat, ball and that signature pose.
For his critics, he is inconsistent and irresponsible, but for his fans (who out-number his critics by a margin as big as the sky), he is only “Lala”, a man who will arrive to send them into delirium. He is an entertainer, his fans say, he can melt people with his smile, and he is the reason why people sit on the branches of trees outside the grounds of domestic games in Pakistan.
Of course, he is not the most elegant looking batsman and his technique will not be found in the textbooks, but still he has demolished many great bowlers and has won countless matches with his bat for Pakistan. Furthermore, his bowling can be incisive, despite the apparent lack of turn for a so-called leg spinner.
He was given Cap 109 as he made his One Day International debut against Kenya in 1996, and soon after the stories of him being a fearless, young hitter from the streets of Pakistan were making rounds across the cricketing world.
Right from the beginning, the only fear he appeared to hold was that the ball may not reach the boundary fast enough. He held the grip of his bat as tightly as he could and tapped it on the turf as hard as one can.
His intensions have always been clear.
He has been on a mission, a mission to dominate the cricket world with that flashing bat, with that cool self belief, and with that endearing character.
Yet Afridi’s consistency, or lack thereof, has prevented him from cementing himself among the game’s elite. His bad patches carry horrific traits that have seen his batting looked uninspired, his bowling lacklustre, and his overall cricket downright amateurish.
But that irritating inconsistency hasn’t altered his exalted status amongst his fans. That just a lone, sparkling six can overshadow all that frustration explains exactly what Shahid Afridi is all about.
His animation and exuberance, combined with flashes of glorious hitting, are what define Afridi. While his lows appear to sink further than all of his counterparts, his highs are out of reach for most. Consequently, his fluctuating impact on Pakistan’s morale is staggering.
That he is enigmatic beyond the realms of comprehension only adds to his charm.
In the first match of the on-going series against the West Indies, Afridi wound back the clock and gave one of the greatest performances in the history of ODI cricket. His aggressive manner at the crease saw him score 74 from just 54 balls, before taking a remarkable 7-12 in just nine overs.
In doing so, Afridi became the first player in ODI history to score 7,000 runs and take 350 wickets.
An incredible feat.
Regardless of how much petrol is left in the tank, regardless of his form and performances during the final chapter of his career, Afridi will be forever adored in Pakistan, while the image of that flashing bat will be permanently ingrained into the minds of those that witnessed a genius.