ICC World Cup: Shaheen Afridi’s brush with history at the Eden
Knee injury may have slowed him down a bit, but he is currently the joint highest wicket taker in this tournament
Kolkata: The past month or so, Shaheen Afridi has often been in the news for wrong reasons. He failed to make much of an impact in the Derby clash between India and Pakistan on 14 October, but worse still, there have been insinuations in the media that the left-arm paceman is at the forefront of an anti-Babar Azam camp in the team.
However, when he trapped young Bangladesh opener Tanzeed Hasan with the fifth ball of his first over at the Eden, Afridi grabbed the spotlight for being the quickest among fast bowlers in history to reach 100 ODI wickets in 51 matches. He bettered Australian great Mitchell Starc’s milestone (52 matches) and became the 21st member of this prestigious group of Pakistan bowlers. And yes, he was also the fastest among his countrymen to reach the feat – bettering Saqlain Mushtaq’s 53 matches.
When Afridi ended with figures of 9-1-23-3 after the Bangladesh innings, he was jointly topping the list of wicket takers in the showpiece with Adam Zampa at 16 scalps. The sinewy 23-year-old from Pashtun hinterland, who can be a lethal combination of pace, movement with a lovely yorker to boot, has certainly not done badly after making his debut in the 2018 Asia Cup against Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi.
Afridi, who shares his surname with his illustrious father-in-law Shahid Afridi, shows a healthy strike rate in other formats as well with 105 wickets in 27 Tests and 64 wickets from 52 T20Is. For those interested in statistics, here is an interesting bit: the record of reaching 100 ODI wickets the quickest belongs to two leggies, Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane (42 matches) and the irrepressible Rashid Khan (44).
When the hype that was building up around the India-Pakistan game earlier in the tournament, former Indian coach and TV pundit Ravi Shastri said on record that Shaheen is a good bowler ‘’but he’s no Wasim Akram.’’ A comment, which bordered on the superfluous, given the fact that Shaheen has the Sultan of Swing as his idol anyway - not to speak of the latter’s gigantic feat of 502 wickets in 356 games in this format alone.
Contrary to the golden age of fast bowling in Pakistan in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when Imran Khan, the two Ws (Akram and Waqar Younis) or Aqib Javed ruled the roost, Afridi is playing his trade at an era when Pakistan’s fortunes have been often on a rollercoaster ride. Their last success in a major ICC ODI event was in the 2017 Champions Trophy in England with Mohammed Amir as their lead pacer.
Afridi made his debut as a callow teenager the next year but made his mark soon enough. He almost singlehandedly plotted India’s downfall in the 2021 T20 World Cup in Dubai, trapping Rohit Sharma in front of the wicket and exposing the faultline of the current Indian skipper against left handers. Afridi’s form, in fact, was one of the key factors behind Pakistan having back-to-back stellar campaigns in the two World T20s (semi-finals in 2021 and runners-up in 2022).
The last edition in Australia dealt him a crucial injury blow with Afridi failing to complete his quota of four overs in the final against England at Melbourne. Afridi struck an early blow by removing opener Alex Hales as Pakistan were defending a modest total of 137 but then injured his knee in trying to take a catch.
When he made a comeback into competitive cricket earlier this year, Afridi looked a touch slower – often bowling at 130 or thereabouts and searching for that movement and reverse swing. The latter, always a favourite in the armoury of Pakistan paceman, proved difficult to extract with two balls in play in the 50-overs format but Afridi rediscovered on time to castle an in-form Mamudullah on Tuesday.
The World Cup is unlikely to see Afridi in the final week, but hopefully, the Pathan has rediscovered his mojo!