The triumph of madness
The best part, without a doubt, is when he stands stock still, one or both arms reaching for the sky, a sheepish grin on his face looking towards the crowd to shower upon him their awe and respect as if he has just managed to save the world from apocalypse. It’s this irrepressible belief in himself, and in Allah, the greatest one, according to the lad himself, that makes it virtually impossible to hate the bugger.
For too many years he has consistently disappointed the millions who have adored him despite, who have scarred their throats yelling his name for hours on end only to have their hopes thwarted beyond consolation, over and over again. But does it not bear testament to the indomitable charisma of the man, the irrefutable charm which he effuses that, despite a long history of failure, interspersed rarely by dazzling moments of triumph, he has a fan following anyone in the world would sell his soul for? Does it not hint rather profusely at something extraordinary, perhaps even divine about this man? I mean, it is a tale of prophetic proportions: mired in scrutiny and failure only to one fine day not only being proven right but converting an entire nation to your school of thought?
Make no mistake, this whole 20-20 thing may have been forced upon the world by Indian Media Savants but it has its roots firmly in the land of the pure. In one individual from the land of the pure who burst onto the international scene with a debut the likes of which had never even been imagined before.
Anyone would want a century on his international cricket debut, but the fastest one? Yeah, it takes an inordinate amount of pomposity even to allow oneself to dream of such an anomaly. But then to not only conceive of it but to accomplish it, with such aplomb and relish and that infernal trademark grin, flanked by facial hair or not, speaks of a greatness that not everyone dares to desire, let alone acquire. The world of cricket was set on the path of change on that fateful day in Canada when Afridi bamboozled every one even remotely interested in the traditionally slow and methodical game of cricket. And he turned the paradigm on its head.
Met with futile and obstinate resistance he suffered at the hands of convention and the unwillingness of people to accept him as more of a harbinger of things to come than as a cricketer, and for too many years toiled in vain to sustain the glory which he deserved. But like god parting the red sea for Moses, the world view changed for Afridi, and lo and behold, he finds himself well and truly in the place he had dreamt up for himself in teenage fantasies. That’s what you get when you don’t compromise on your beliefs. How many times did we hear coaches and legends lament him for wasting his talent? How many times did we as spectators groan at his inevitable and inglorious fall from grace? We wished for him to grow a brain, to find patience, to develop a temperament with which to craft a proper cricket innings. But we all failed to realize that it wasn’t Afridi who was in the wrong, it was the game of cricket itself. We loved the tingles his brash, disrespectful, almost barbaric approach towards batting brought about but we were unwilling to accept the fact that such emotional decadence is only possible, and to be honest, bearable, in short bursts. But for all our chagrin, Afridi kept smiling, excusing himself unapologetically for his failure and never once, not for a single instant, not even as he visibly matured to become a better bowler, a better fielder, a better man altogether, did he bother to change the way he bats.
I can imagine what it must be like in Afridi’s head, coming in to bat knowing that not only are you expected to devastate, that’s the only thing you are predisposed to doing well. He probably treats each match like Achilles treated each war, where it is all about whacking the ball as hard as you can as far as you can, every single time. Destroy the confidence of your enemy, humiliate him beyond the ability to look you in the eye and then whack him over the boundary some more, until he wishes for death. That’s the Afridi school of thought, and by God, it’s brilliant! His own almost infinite reserve of confidence allows him to face up to challenges that would break an ordinary man into compliance, I mean imagine, just imagine being in his shoes, with so much riding on your shoulders, so many expectations, usually divergent, beating down on your head and you deciding that changing yourself is the last thing you are capable of doing. So you change the world instead. If nothing else, that itself calls for a round of thunderous applause that, if possible, should stretch into infinity.
There’s no argument that Afridi is not by any means the best batsmen, the best bowler, or the best fielder the Pakistani team has produced, but he is most certainly the most effective blend of all the aspects of cricket we have ever seen bearing the Pakistani flag on his back.
When you have had legends like Imran Khan, Miandad, Zaheer Abbas, Saeed Anwer, Waseem, Waqar, Saqlain, Abdul Qadir, Inzi, and many many more, it’s not hard to see why everyone still looks at Pakistan as a formidable contender even though we have thrown away matches more often than should be forgivable and broken hearts more regularly than should be acceptable. We incite passion when we get things right, we rile up the entire world to rally behind us because when we rise, we don’t rise like a phoenix rising from the ashes, no sir, we do it like a Dragon! A fire-breathing, acid oozing, curses spewing dragon who is pissed off and hell bound and is not only going to rain its fury upon your head but laugh at you while doing it so that by the time we are done with you, by the time we have had our fill and put you in your place and the time comes to shake hands and act all friendly, though our handshakes will be sincere, you will not be able to lift your heads to look us in the eyes because you will know you messed with the wrong animal on the wrong day at the wrong damn time.
We have done it often enough to be good at this coming up from behind thing. It seems it’s the only way we can actually win anything monumental as our current captain, Younis khan, who has the ability to speak so fast and so intelligibly that it’s a wonder how the poor guy interviewing him understand a words he says, I all his leader-like wisdom and quite comically pointed out yesterday, “Everyone knows, we are slow starters.” Yes, Mr Khan, everyone knows that and everyone loves us for it. Everyone loves the underdog and if there ever has been an underdog as worthy of the adoration of the kind hearted masses, it is The Pakistani Cricket team.
I recently compared the Pakistani team to a Ferrari in a discussion, not because we are as pretty or as brilliant, but because a Ferrari is never the quickest in a race, but it will come up from behind, riding in your slipstream, to overtake you without you even realizing what the hell just happened, and leave you puzzled, coughing in its fuel laden dust, towards the finish line long before you can even begun to understand the one fundamental truth about competing: It takes method to win, but it takes madness to be a hero. And as madness goes, there is no doubt, the Pakistan team is a team full of madmen (wasting one full over from Gul to let fawad Alam bowl? Hello?) And amongst these madmen, the maddest of all, again without a doubt, is Shahid Khan Afridi.
So here’s to the madness of Afridi, and to ours. Its rather fitting that Afridi is so proficient at the ultra-fast craziness that is this new 20-20 genre of the game, after all, he invented it.