In Praise of Shahid Afridi

Written by  //  April 1, 2011  //  Sport  //  8 Comments

As musings about Mumbai take over from memories of Mohali, there honestly is little to remember of the cricket played the day before yesterday.  With the odd exception of Sehwag’s blitzkrieg and Harbhajan’s scorcher to get Umar Akmal at a time he was threatening to run away the game, the rest is like an indistinguishable and undistinguished blur. Suhrith put it beautifully here when he said he would ‘remember close to diddly-squat about this match in the years to come’; the statement is perhaps more prescient than he intended, having been rendered true for many a mere forty-eight hours later.

However, if there is one image I will carry from this game, it will be from a genuinely distraught yet bravely smiling Shahid Afridi, at the post-match conference. I honestly admit I never quite liked Afridi. Apart from the fact that he never seemed to move out of his twenties (perhaps a model to follow for all CriticalTwenties authors!), which struck me as incredible, I took an active dislike to him when he, in the India-Pakistan 1999 World Cup game bludgeoned Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad to all parts of the ground in the early overs of Pakistan’s ultimately unsuccessful run chase. But in the post-match conference, Afridi’s words conveyed a sense of dignity and grace about the man which renders his age manipulations and past cricketing exploits against India, as frustrating as they may have been at the time, trifling.

It is hard enough for him being the Pakistani cricket team captain. Harder still, when the country is an absolute wreck and counts on a grand victory in the Cricket World Cup as respite from its accumulating miseries. And hardest still, when with the weight of these expectations, one captains Pakistan to a devastating loss against the old arch-rival India in the semi-final. Afridi not only bore these onerous burdens magnanimously during the course of the game, but poignantly expressed both his hurt at the loss and his quiet respect for India’s performance at the post-match ceremony.

He hemmed and hawed at the difficult questions on Pakistan’s performance clearly expressing his frustration both at his fielders for having dropped more chances than one can count (“Sachin was lucky”) and at his batsmen’s indiscretion including his own (“we played irresponsible shots”). At the same time, he wished India well for the final as only a genuine sportsman would and apologised to his nation unexpectedly at the end of Shastri’s questions, betraying a deep emotion of having failed in his mission.

Most revealingly, Afridi retained a hint of a smile throughout the post-match conference—a smile of a man who had lost a game but refused to lose his dignity at a time when it was easiest to do so. Long after the dust settles at Mohali, Mumbai and this World Cup, I will carry this image with me—of a beaten captain who lost a cricket game but won something infinitely more valuable- a country’s genuine and heartfelt respect.

8 Comments on "In Praise of Shahid Afridi"

  1. Suhrith April 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm · Reply

    Excellent piece, Arghya. I thought Afridi’s post-match comments were that much more commendable when one considers the kind of twaddle that some of Pakistan’s past captains have uttered on occasions such as these.

  2. Shivprasad April 2, 2011 at 6:39 am · Reply

    Great post, Arghya. I think you sum up the sentiment of a lot many sensible Indian cricket followers. Also agree that most of the lot who admired him for what he did on Wednesday were fresh converts (myself included). While he did conduct himself well post match, he also conducted himself admirably in the course of the game. While his fielders were dropping catches of Sachin not once did he give any chat to the batsman. The scene of Afridi say something to Sachin with a broad smile on that occasion will also be one of the memorable moments on a day otherwise replete with some dull cricket (as Suhirth points out).

  3. Harsh April 2, 2011 at 8:27 am · Reply

    Great Post Arghya! … and now that we have made it to the finals, looking back it seems fitting enough that it was Afridi who caught Sachin for an innings punctuated with dropped catches and close calls . I ll surely remember his reaction, he so rightly deserves credit for keeping his calm and dignity under pressure.

  4. Karan April 4, 2011 at 8:07 am · Reply

    Volte-Face?

  5. Sudeshna Sengupta April 4, 2011 at 3:56 pm · Reply

    Do watch his remarks over a Pakistan channel today. Surprising statements. All the dinner diplomacy goes flying out into the cold. Does everything need be so bitterly politically coloured?

  6. Harini Viswanathan April 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm · Reply

    Cant have a more gracious captain than sangakarra though. He embodies the spirit of sportsmanship =D

  7. Arghya April 4, 2011 at 9:30 pm · Reply

    Well I think his comments today are strange. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were made under pressure of some kind- being a Pakistani captain, losing to India in a World Cup semi-final and then saying nice things about India wouldn’t please quite a few people in Pakistan, I can imagine. And as we all know, it’s hard sticking to a moderate viewpoint in Pakistan today.
    So I still think we should celebrate him making a genuine statement in the first place, rather than politically motivated afterthoughts he may have had.

  8. Premkumar September 26, 2011 at 9:59 am · Reply

    Anyways afridi did his best knowing that the match is fixed. Along with players who support match fixing and catch dropping, he did get a chance to catch one. also as the century for tendulkar was also fixed, afridi knew one day or another, he will get the reward for taking that catch.Now he is out of the team.

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