CAME, PLAYED AND CONQUERED

Flamboyant Shahid Afridi Speaks to PAGE

By SHAHID HASHMI
Dec 19 - 25, 2005

He came, he played and he conquered. As a 16-year-old, Afridi got a surprising chance to play for Pakistan. Playing in the West Indies with Pakistan Under-19, Afridi received a good news that he has been summoned to Pakistan's national duty to play in a tri-series in Kenya. He grabbed the chance with both hands - hitting the fastest world record 100 off just 37 balls! Since that day, Shahid Afridi is the most popular cricketer, to say the least. He creates an atmosphere when he goes to the center to bat and not become part of the atmosphere. He hits his way to the hearts of cricket fans. So die-hards are his fans that once he gets out, they leave the ground without bothering who is winning and who is losing.

Pakistan captain Inzamamul Haq did admit leaving Afridi out of the first Test team was a difficult decision. Pakistan won that Test and brought Afridi back in the squad for the Faisalabad Test. He excelled, 92 off just 82-balls with six sixes and six boundaries were enough to demoralize the England team. 94-95 to put England in a web of spin, but than an act of madness when he scruffed the pitch, handed him a one Test and two one-day ban. He then compensated for that disappointed for missing the third Test, with a bang in his hometown after serving a ban of one test and two ODIs for scuffing the pitch at Faisalabad. He hit a blazing knock of 31 off 14 balls and later claimed two wickets in Pakistan's emphatic 165-run victory over England.

Q: HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN YOUR 'BLUNDER' IN FAISALABAD?

AFRIDI: That was not an intentional act of mine, it just happened in quick time. However, I must admit I did a mistake and should not repeat it in future. I was disappointed for missing the third test because I was in fine form in the first innings at Faisalabad where I missed the century by not much.

Q: HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR CHANCES AS A TEST PLAYER BECAUSE THERE IS A STAMP ON YOU THAT YOU ARE ONLY A ONE-DAY SPECIALIST?

AFRIDI: It depends on the team management. The captain is the man who gives chance to his players. Since Inzamam Bhai has taken over as captain he has reposed a lot of confidence in me and has given me regular chances in Tests, so has Woolmer, our coach. I am eager to play in both Tests and one-day cricket but captain and coach first form a combination and then they decided. "

Q: THERE HAS A LOT OF CONFUSION OVER YOUR BATTING SPOT AS WELL AND IT EVEN LED TO A EXCHANGE OF HOT WORDS BETWEEN YOU AND YOUNIS IN THE WEST INDIES, WHERE DO YOU PREFER TO BAT?

AFRIDI: I prefer batting at No.5, but its up to the captain of course and I want to perform at my best anyway. I have also opened the innings - both in Tests and one-dayers, so it's up to the team management to decide. As far as the exchange of words with Younis, it was not a big issue. You have differences within the team but they are resolved with mutual agreement. It was not as big as made by the media.

Q: HOW DO YOU RATE YOUR CHANCES OF BEING A PART OF A PAKISTAN TEST TEAM IN FUTURE?

AFRIDI: Pakistan has been doing well and we are gelling as a team. Since Woolmer has taken over as coach he has done a lot of good things for the team. We leveled a Test series in India, then beat them in the one-day series and then did the same in the West Indies, so a lot of progress has been made. This current series win over England has done wonders for the team and now we are ready to take India head on. It would be an exciting series because we have taken good strides forward since India came here and beat us. Now it's our time and our turn to beat them.

Q: HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU MADE THE FASTEST CENTURY?

AFRIDI: I was very happy because it was against Sri Lanka who had a record against us and I was able to even things up! It was only my second match but Saeed Anwar told me to enjoy the match and my batting. I did exactly that, and the ball was coming onto the bat and I could see it like a football, so I managed to create a New World record. It was the prayers of my parents, and my fans.

Q: TELL US MOST TALENTED CRICKETER IN DOMESTIC CRICKET YOU SEEN? WHO YOU THINK COULD BE SUPERSTAR IN FUTURE AND HOW IS THE GAME PROGRESSING IN THE COUNTRY?

AFRIDI: I think the game has been progressing well in Pakistan. The facilities have been raised and the standard of the game has also been raised. I think there are a lot of superstars now playing at domestic level but I see Hasan Raza, Faisal Iqbal, Jannisar Khan and Mushtaq Afridi (my younger brother as future stars.

Q: WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION WHEN YOU STARTED PLAYING. WHAT GOAL DO YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE MOST?

AFRIDI: My favourite was watching Imran Khan on TV and got inspired by him and I want to play for Pakistan with honour and leave cricket with honour and I also admired Wasim Akram. He was a great captain and a great teammate, always inspiring with his performance and words. My goal is to play for Pakistan as much as possible.

Q: HOW DO YOU REACT TO YOUR FANS, DO THEY BOTHER YOU AT TIMES?

AFRIDI: No, not at all. No one bothers me. At times, you get irritated over lots and lots of phone calls but that is natural. I have a lot of young and old fans and they admire me. I play for my team first and then for the fans.

Q: HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THE PRESSURE OF DEMANDS TO HIT OUT WHENEVER YOU GO OUT TO BAT?

AFRIDI: This is very difficult. But I try my best to settle first and then try to fulfill the demands.