All through his 15-year-long stint in international cricket, it has been tough to typecast Shahid Afridi. He has been a kamikaze batsman, a game-changing bowler and an inspirational skipper. Over the next seven weeks, Afridi will have to play all these roles if Pakistan hope to win their second World Cup.
The veteran himself believes that it will be a mission — which kicks off with the opening match against Kenya at Hambantota on Wednesday — that will require overcoming a number of challenges.
Not least of all, the loss of three important members of his team following the spot-fixing scandal. Not only would Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir been certainties in the Pakistani line-up, the trio would also most certainly have been the fulcrum around which Afridi & Co could have based their game-plans.
What Afridi is left with in the 15-member squad for the Cup is a bunch of youngsters still earning their grades at this level, and a few seasoned campaigners, who much like the skipper bring a combination of proven credentials and massive egos. And the onus for providing the adhesive in order for his team to gel together will squarely be on the right-handed dasher.
While Pakistan have a couple of youngsters with the potential to be future stars in the form of Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal, the question-marks surrounding Shoaib Akhtar’s fitness and what the express paceman can deliver for his team on a given day will be a constant worry for Afridi.
Though not being considered among the pre-tournament favourites will ward off some of the pressure on that front, Afridi like his fellow captains from the subcontinent will be well-versed with how much the World Cup means to the fans in their respective countries. Lifting the World Cup trophy might well result in all evils being forgiven, if not forgotten. But Afridi has been around long enough to realise that the aftermath of an early exit will be disastrous for his team. He only has to think back to the last time the World Cup was held in the subcontinent.
And it only seems obvious when Afridi, looking his effusive self, says, “It’s difficult to be the captain in India and Pakistan. It’s difficult to handle. Situations are tough at times and you have to make sacrifices.”
The format of the World Cup this time around though suits the Pakistani style of play—if not that of their captain himself. For starters, getting through to the knockout stages will not be too difficult for Pakistan, even if they mess up on a couple of occasions. Unlike the last few editions, where a team was required to be consistent through two league stages — not the easiest task for any Pakistani outfit — the unpredictability of the Men in Green could well turn them into the most dangerous team from the quarter-finals onwards.
Not many teams have as many impulsive game-changers in their squad as Pakistan do. The likes of Akhtar, Abdul Razzaq, Umar Gul, or even Younis Khan for that matter, have the capability and the skills to lay low and still produce the knockout punch in any match — in any given situation.
The intent in this Pakistani camp too has been on full show at Hambantota so far. “I think in my entire career, we haven’t done as much hard work as we are doing now,” insists Afridi.
If there’s one cricketer in this World Cup, who can single-handedly win a match with either bat or ball, it is the Pakistan skipper. And knowing Afridi, not many would rule out the chances that he might well be donning the most glorious role of his career yet come April, that of a World Cup winning captain.