Bowing out with dignity – a feat yearned for by many but achieved by few. By pre-announcing his ODI retirement post-ICC WC2015, with one fell swoop, Shahid Afridi has indicated to all and sundry that he will go out, as he has played, on his own terms and to the dictates of none.
In the immediate aftermath of this heart-stopping announcement, many a scribe lifted his quill and penned out some gushing tributes. Yet, how does one do written justice to a player who has superseded his position in the team?
T20 and sometimes ODI captain Shahid Afridi – neither title befitting his status as a global superstar – is habitually exalted to soaring levels (usually by delirious fans) and at other times maligned beyond redemption (usually by belligerent board chiefs).
But after facing setbacks that would fatally wound lesser mortals, he has always made an astonishing comeback. Post-captaining the 3rd ODI between Pakistan and Australia in Abu Dhabi in October last year, he said he would always be ready to serve his country as captain, only to face a backlash from current PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan. The latter then publicly reiterated his commitment to Misbahul Haq as World Cup captain.
Fast-forward to the UAE and due to Misbah’s hamstring injury, Afridi was asked to captain the side yet again. This followed the media witnessing a heated discussion between two managerial staff and two senior players, after the 2nd ODI between Pakistan and New Zealand in Sharjah in December 2014.
Constantly fenced-in by expectation, his zesty bites to the media filtered by the echelons at the top of the PCB, he is expected to blend into the background when Misbah is fit and take the team to victory when Misbah is injured or otherwise indisposed.
To the unseasoned fan it may seem he has had a seesaw of a career, his batting sometimes clicking, at other times not. Yet that perception does not reflect the invariable times he has produced a spell-binding, match-winning moment for Pakistan.
In the recently-concluded ODI series against New Zealand in the UAE, he scored a 51 from 61 balls, a 27 from 14 balls, a 55 from 26 balls, a 49 from 25 balls and a 13 from 9 balls respectively, with his economy rate well below 4.0 in most matches.
In spite of that penetrating stare, his arrival at post-match press conferences still has hardened hacks eager to ask a question. Razor-sharp in understanding the hidden layers behind the queries and to the point with his answers, their potency usually unintentionally target the management men behind the scenes. His persona overpowering that of regular Test and ODI captain Misbahul Haq, board members have often failed to understand that he has performed best, when those around him have accepted that he is better coaxed than handled.
The ICC World Cup 2015 is the perfect background for him to say farewell. Notwithstanding the solemnity of the occasion, there will undoubtedly be many a teary-eyed fan watching his last hurrah.
Adios, Afridi, the player sprinkled with more than a gold dust of charisma.