Pakistanís most valuble T20 player is going through what is
perhaps the worst lean patch of his international career. Can he come out of it in Sri Lanka?
after spearheading Pakistan to a memorable title-winning triumph at
Lord's, Shahid Afridi finds himself under the microscope following an
extended lean patch that is beginning to threaten his international
most valuable player at back-to-back editions of the ICC World Twenty20
in 2007 and 2009, has been struggling to regain the sort of golden form
that can turn him into one of the most destructive allrounders in the
shorter versions of the game.
And for Pakistan,
looking to win back the coveted T20 crown in Sri Lanka, it's very
important that he does because Afridi is one of their top match-winners.
If Pakistan want to go all the way, they would need 'Lala' to click.
Maybe he would, maybe
So what's wrong with
Afridi, who till last year was one of the most lethal spinners in both
One-day and Twenty20 Internationals?
Ask the former captain
and he would say it's just a lean patch. "I'm going through a bad
patch," he told me ahead of the ICC World Twenty20. "It's not
entirely unexpected because over the years I've seen so many players
suffer such patches. For me, unfortunately the timing couldn't have been
worse," Afridi added referring to the fact that he is supposed to
carry a lot of responsibility as the team's senior most pro in Sri
So is he confident of
bouncing back in Sri Lanka where Pakistan would begin their title
campaign with a potentially explosive game against top Pool D rivals New
Zealand at Pallekele today?
"I'm trying my
best," he said. "I'm working hard in the nets. I'm taking help
from Dav (Whatmore). It's really important for me to do my job both with
the bat and ball because it's a major assignment for our team."
Afridi's batting has
been below-par since he hit two superb tons at the 2010 Asia Cup in Sri
Lanka. Since then he has just scored three ODI fifties in 45 outings.
It's actually an
alarming dip in his bowling form in both ODI and T20 formats that has
caused more concern among the team management and his fans around the
globe. For his critics, it has come as a perfect opportunity to reject
the allrounder as spent force. Some of them are now questioning his
place in Pakistan's limited-overs squads. Others are wondering whether
Afridi's indifferent form is linked to Pakistan Cricket Board's decision
to overlook him for the job of the country's Twenty20 captain.
But in spite of all
the questions and conspiracy theories, Afridi remains as the most
popular Pakistani cricketer of his generation. Over the years, he has
garnered the support of millions of die-hard fans in Pakistan and
abroad. For them, he is a hero whether he manages to enthrall them with
his big-hitting prowess or falls for a first-ball duck.
And Afridi loves
playing the role of a hero which is why he always bounces back.
"I've always wanted to be a hero even when I was a kid playing on
Afridi grew up
watching movies like Brave Heart, Patriot and Gladiator and counts Mel
Gibson and Russell Crowe among his favourite heroes. "I've always
loved movies where the hero manages to achieve impossible goals. They
are always inspiring."
So what kind of movies
had he been watching in the lead up to the World Twenty20 championship?
Well, there hasn't
been much time for any movies because Afridi has been spending much of
his free time in the nets.
When the chips are
down, he switches his focus on getting things right. And these days when
nothing is going right for him, Afridi is a busy man.
Last Thursday, I had a
chat with Mohsin Khan, the former Pakistan coach. Inevitably I asked him
about his views on Afridi.
Is he facing any
fitness problems? Or are there any other reasons behind the slump in his
Mohsin just shrugged
aside the notion that Afridi was dogged by any major fitness worries.
"If a player is playing for the last 15 years, he is bound to face
a few fitness problems, a few niggles. But I don't think that it's a
major concern for Afridi," said Mohsin. "Our boys are
physically not as strong as the Australians or the South Africans so you
can't expect them to be at their hundred percent all the time."
Afridi could be low on
confidence, said Mohsin. "I personally believe that he is mentally
down," said the former Test opener.
"I think that
it's the responsibility of the coach and captain to pump him up. They
should sit down with him and give him all the confidence he needs."
Mohsin rejects the
idea that on his current form, Afridi doesn't deserve to be in the
doesn't have a place in this team of 11 then players like Umar Akmal and
Imran Nazir won't make the cut for a team of 111," he stressed.
So what would Mohsin
have done had he been Pakistan's coach in Sri Lanka? "The thing is
I don't talk to the players anymore because I don't want the present
team management to think that I'm interfering. But I'm watching the
players all the time and if I had talked to Afridi I would have tried to
motivate him with everything in my powers. Besides my message to him
would have been 'now is the time that you get your act together because
nobody can do it for you'."
So does Mohsin think
that Afridi can do it?
"Of course he
can," said Mohsin. "Afridi is one of the most outstanding
cricketers and I believe that if the coach and captain can give him the
confidence he needs, he would lift himself out of the lean patch and
will do what he does best Ė win matches for Pakistan."
Khalid Hussain is
Editor Sports of The News, Karachi
Cricket T20 World Cup has begun and will continue till October 7 in Sri
Lanka. The tournament
started with the hosts Sri Lanka beating Zimbabwe at Hambantota.
Pakistan will face New Zealand in their first match on Sept 23 at
Pallekele Stadium, Kandy.
Though we claim that
T20 was introduced by Pakistan through 20-overs-a-side night matches in
Ramadan, the fact remains that the game was formally introduced to the
world in 2003 by the British when ECB launched the T20 Cup with the
slogan 'I don't like cricket, I love it'.
The T20 format soon
invaded the hearts and minds of those in the subcontinent.
India won the first
T20 Cricket World Cup in 2007, defeating Pakistan in the final.
strength is likely to be the key factor in deciding the outcome of the
matches, cricket pundits have predicted that fast bowlers will play a
key role in 2012 World Cup because of the newly laid and unpredictable
pitches in Sri Lanka.
The teams that have
seven or more fast or medium fast bowlers in their bench enjoy definite
advantage over the other teams.
South Africa, England
and West Indies have eight seam bowlers each in their line up, where as
Australia and New Zealand have the services of seven medium pacers each.
Sri Lanka have six
fast bowlers at their service and Pakistan and India have five fast
bowlers each in the final list handed over to ICC for the T20 World Cup.
have preferred experience over speed, penetration and lethality, thus
including Abdul Razzaq and Mohammad Sami over the young and penetrative
I personally think
that our team will badly miss the services of Junaid as the tournament
progresses. A few of the available fast bowlers with Pakistan are injury
prone or are struggling with their present form and rhythm.
A few anchorpersons in
electronic media, sponsored by a particular lobby, have started a
campaign against the foreign coach recently hired as well as the team
captain. Besides, they have been favouring Mohammad Sami and Shahid
Afridi who have served the country well, but are now completely out of
form or ó it would be better to say ó have outlived their utility.
Unfortunately we are
very fond of living in our glorious past, which makes the transformation
process almost impossible.
We are not willing to
give time to youngsters. Transformation takes time. But PCB has again
fallen for a short term objective. The management thinks that winning
the T20 world Cup is of utmost importance and it would give the
depressed nation something to celebrate.
The objective may be
correct but the means are inappropriate. Our sports story is full of
such incidents. Instead of declaring victory, leaders of successful
efforts use the credibility afforded by short term wins to tackle even
bigger problems. They go after the systems and structures that are not
consistent with the transformation vision and have not been confronted
They pay great
attention to how people and teams are developed. Unlike our ex-super
stars who sit on private and government TV channels to misguide the
highly emotional public, these hard working professionals are down to
earth people who know that transformation and renewal efforts take years
of hard work and dedication.
The present PCB
leadership like its predecessors also seems to crumble under the
pressure of ex-players and media. They have again rested their hopes on
Pakistan T20 team have
the highest average age among the participating teams, and I doubt that
this approach will pay any dividends.
It is not
understandable what we are trying to dig out of Sami, Razzaq, Imran
Nazir, Yasir Arafat and Afridi.
If we are so deeply
anchored in our past than we better get Saeed Anwar, Wasim Akram and
Javed Miandad back in the ranks.
I can assure you that
Akram can still bowl three to four tricky overs and Miandad will be able
to place the cricket ball in the gaps with great mastery to bamboozle
the opponents for a couple of overs.
England did not
compromise on discipline and left out Kevin Pieterson for this important
event because they value the system more than individuals.
Australian fast bowler
Brett Lee is yet fit enough to be picked for any limited-overs game, but
the Australians know that he is now down the hill and any batting
onslaught can put Lee out of the ground.
The first world that
prefers systems are using technique and technologies in selection and
talent hunting. Billy Beane, the Oakland A's baseball manager, instead
of relying on media input, is using Regression Analysis to glean
extraordinary insights about which baseball players to draft.
Though Pakistan won
their first warm-up match against India in a convincing manner, their
fast bowling lineup was well exposed by the Indian batting powerhouse.
The butchering of
Mohammad Sami at the hands of Kohli and others proved my above
Mohsin Hasan Khan may
be very annoyed with PCB after losing the lucrative assignment, but his
opinions against Dev Whatmore and the team captain are doing no favour
to the team.
Selection of the team
and talent hunting is a specialised job that can't be left at the mercy
of media, ex-players, redundant coaches and masses that may be crazy
about cricket but are not sport literate.
After a convincing
victory against India, Pakistan showed their unpredictability with
batting against England in warm up match at P Sara Oval, Colombo. The
only batsman that looked somewhat comfortable on the lively Oval pitch
was Asad Shafiq.
Imran Nazir and Afridi,
the darlings of crowd, again proved to be big disappointments. I think
the time has come for PCB and the tour management committee to take some
tough decisions and withstand public pressure in the best interest of
Imran Nazir, Afridi,
Sami and Abdul Razzaq should be decommissioned with full honour and
fresh blood should be infused to help complete the process of
transformation under the new coach and the captain.
I wish Pakistan to
come out with flying colours in World T20, but it will be unrealistic to
pin hopes on the retiring fleet.
Thus the key to
success is now in the hands of the tour selection committee which picks
the final eleven.
I sincerely hope the
anchorpersons, instead of indulging in coach and captain bashing, will
support the team so that they win with the best possible playing
This tournament is
also an excellent platform for the Muslims to show their solidarity,
love and respect for the greatest Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). It is
therefore suggested that Pakistan Cricket team should use their global
appeal and reach and thus send a strong message to the world by
participating in the tournament while wearing black ribbons. This indeed
will be far more productive than call of shutter down strike, national
holiday and burning of public property.