Friday, 3 April 2015

Pakistan Loses Two Stalwarts - Afridi and Misbah

Australia deserves to be the world champion. They defeated this world cup’s only two unbeaten teams, on the trot, in the semifinal and final to lift the crown for the fifth time. This edition of the world cup gave us exciting new faces of the new era of cricket - Trent Boult, Mitchell Starc, and many more. But sadly enough, it also marked the end of an era that produced stalwarts who carried their country's hopes on their shoulders, mesmerising cricket lovers notwithstanding geographical boundaries - Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardane, Misbah UL haq, Shahid Afridi, Daniel Vettori, Michael Clarke. And quite some players have already played their last world cup.

Cricket is and has been more than just a sport in the Indian subcontinent. Cricketers are worshipped and adored and enjoy a celebrity status, some even more so than others. And it comes as a huge blow to the nations, the teams when a player decides to hang up his boots after a long, captivating career. India had its share of the uncomfortable transition when Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and Kumble retired and left gaping holes in the team that took mammoth efforts to compensate. This time around, a subcontinent nation, India’s very own bitter-sweet rival Pakistan loses it’s class players – Shahid Afridi and Misbah-ul-Haq.

Cricket does not come easy in Pakistan owing to the political turmoil and the ever changing and disruptive landscape of terror. People look up to their cricket stars to bring laurels and peace to the suffering country. Every spell of every bowler is compared with those of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Every batsmen is expected to be a Inzamam. Every captain is required to be Imran Khan. In times like these, two batsmen held their own carrying the responsibilities of the entire teams on their shoulders and to some extent, have been successful in doing so.

For a career that started as a replacement spinner, Afridi has done pretty well as an aggressive batsmen. He scored his first century at the ripe age of 16. That innings entered the cricket folklore as it was struck in mere 37 balls, a record that wasn’t broken until quite recently. As a result, Afridi was always expected to belt away bowlers right from the get go and to produce more such brilliant knocks. The expectations took their toll and he never managed to score consistently as a batsmen. But whenever he did, it had devastating effect on the opposition’s bowling figures. Afridi has the highest strike rate in the game and add to that he has the record for highest number of sixes in ODIs. The fact that he has never played more than 100 balls in one day cricket is something cricket pundits and critics would discuss over dinner. But with Afridi, a potential under-50 ball century was always on the cards.

As a batsman, Afridi lacked consistency. But he was always among wickets and is well respected in cricket as a dangerous bowler. He admitted to being a better bowler than batsman. His 395 ODI wickets are testament to his abilities as world class bowler, but is hardly given the credit he deserves for such a feat.

Afridi leaves behind a legacy, tales of aggression and unparalleled fearlessness, as a batsman, a bowler and an inspiring presence on the field.
This brings us to another Pakistani hanging up his boots, gloves, pads and the mighty responsible bat he played with – Misbah-ul-Haq. Always the last man standing, always the most responsible and temperamental cricketer, always taking the fight to the opposition while he runs out of partners at the other end. As a captain of a skillful but self-destructive Pakistan side, his composure and temperament were paramount.

Misbah is still blamed for that ill-timed scoop that lost Pakistan the inaugural T20 World Cup. But hardly anyone remembers that Pakistan were tottering at 77-6 with ‘responsible’ match winners like Younis Khan, Shoaib Malika and Shahid Afridi were back in the hut, Pakistan had already lost the cup. Misbah simply kept them alive till the very end, re-ignited lost hopes that Pakistan might just snatch it back.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be a very apt foreshadowing of Pakistan’s misfortunes over the next few years. Misbah-ul-Haq always stood tall among the ruins, refusing to give up, refusing to bow out without a fight. And for that, he deserves the utmost respect a cricketer of his stature commands.

Cricket in Pakistan is brimming with talent with and as a team they are showing grit and determination despite their management’s below par concern for their team. Losing a calm and composed captain at the helm will hamper their spirits and performance, undoubtedly. But like they have shown in the past, hopefully, there will be another Misbah, another Inzamam and possibly, the next Imran Khan.

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