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Lala – You are still cherished!

4th October 1996. ODI number 1125. A young, clean-shaven, robustuous Pathan teen-ager walks into the Gymkhana Club ground, Nairobi; right hand holding a glove and the left one apprehensively adjusting the helmet. Coming in at number 3 and playing his first international innings, this budding ballaybaaz hammered 100 runs off his bat before anyone could realize what was happening. Today, we all know this man as, Shahid Khan Afridi.

In the last 16 years, the name Afridi has been glued to Pakistan cricket like a gum. He has, with all his might, taken Pakistan cricket to a whole new level. There have been times when the stadium used to be primarily jam-packed to witness this lad. Let me take you back to June 21st 2009. Standing tall with a wide grin on his face, in his trademark ‘X’ posture, the crowd roared as he took the final runs of the match and Pakistan were crowned the World T20 Champions. Who can forget that breath-taking catch of the tournament, sending Scott Styris back to the pavilion off an Umar Gul delivery. To be honest, if I began penning down every such memory that’s attached to his name, this blog post would take ages to come to a halt.

But no, that’s not why I sat down to write.

Deep deep down, every Pakistani who has followed or not followed the game of cricket, has someday somewhere felt proud of having Shahid Afridi in their team. As Cherian Thomas rightly stated:

“He sets pulses racing not just among women but grown up, hardened men. He wears his heart on his sleeve.”

Many admire his majestic leg-break bowling that can easily puzzle the opponent and produce a good mix of wicket-taking deliveries. With over 300 international wickets, Shahid Afridi has groomed himself to become one of the best leg-spinners in the history of cricket. When he was named the skipper of the National side, he made full use of that opportunity as well. He was encouraging and brought the best out of most players in the team. Soon after the spot-fixing frenzy that excluded three match-winning players like Mohammad Amir, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif from the World Cup 2011 that followed, Afridi won hearts all over again by taking an almost broken Pakistani side to the semi-finals of the tournament. A tournament that no Pakistani shall ever forget. A pat on the back of the bowler, a word of advice when a ball went aberrant, Afridi was here, there and everywhere on the field. A captain in the truest sense of the word.

Although his unfortunate tale can be summed up in the line to follow; as someone wisely pointed out, even if Afridi takes all ten wickets in an innings, he would not be appreciated unless of course, he scores nothing less than a breezy fifty.

Call it the high standards that he has set, or the thankless nature of Pakistani cricket fans, Shahid Afridi’s ‘BOOM BOOM’ logo seems to be tumbling down merely because he has been nothing but out-of-form in recent times.

However, Afridi’s logic illustrates that the ball is there to be hit, so he hits it hard without worrying twice about the consequences.

“I feel terrible and angry with myself if I am out playing an injudicious shot. My evening is spoilt. Sleep evades me.”

But if he is told to stockpile runs by keeping his head down and the Boom-Boom show aside, he is very much capable of doing that too with all his grit.

Afridi’s dilemma however has reached a whole new level because of his uncontrollable urge of hitting every ball he faces. He has let his fans down, no doubt, and he would be the first one to admit it.

“I shall retire the moment I think I am not able to contribute to my team. Instead of the selectors telling me that I have lost my touch or my vigor, I will tell them ‘Thank you I have had my fill.’

In a way, it all boils down to how we see him. In one minute, he can be that flamboyant, young-at-heart cricketer who never fails to make hearts skip a beat when he walks into the field, and in the next, he can transform into a dangerous looking athlete who is nothing less than a match-winner for his team.

So why not, on this birthday, we take a minute out and think of all those glorious moments that he has given us.

Avid cricket followers and Lala freaks will always find a way of expressing their tremendous love for their Pathan superstar. This time, it was through Twitter. Lala enthusiasts are seen sending out their wishes to the superstar through the #HappyBirthdayLala trend.

Because no matter what he does with the rest of his career, his contributions to his nation can never be overstated.

So lets think for a second, ‘What if there was never an Afridi?’
Lets value him now. Before he just remains a memory.
Happy Birthday Shahid Afridi.

We love you.

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