As Shahid Afridi celebrated with that starman pose, with his considerable frame extended fully, arms pointing to the skies and eyes gazing into the distance, it was difficult not to draw parallels with the eternal David Bowie hit Starman.
“There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds …” goes Bowie in his high-pitched vocals.
And Afridi surely did blow our minds at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday (March 16), ripping apart Bangladesh with an all-round show that turned Pakistan’s campaign on its head. He scored an exhilarating 19-ball 49 and followed that up with 2 for 27 to dismantle Bangladesh and seal a 55-run win. It was typical Afridi. Unpredictable to the end, with a keen grasp of timing and a sense of occasion.
Given all that happened in the days leading up to the ICC World Twenty20 2016 clash, it was perfectly placed for an Afridi special. The Pakistan captain had a tough few weeks. The team’s Asia Cup campaign was a disaster, not so much for the results but for the manner of their batting collapses.
Furthermore, behind the scenes, Afridi stood the risk of losing his captaincy, a little under a week before the team was to depart for India. There were reports that Afridi had a cavalier attitude to team matters, skipping training sessions and support-staff meetings. Despite that, he held on, although Shaharyar Khan, the PCB chairman, reportedly stated: “There are problems in his captaincy which can’t be mended and especially at a time when his career is about to end.”
Then, after the team’s delayed arrival in India – due to political reasons, which forced Pakistan to reconsider their participation in the tournament till security assurances were made – a seemingly innocent statement from Afridi didn’t go down well with his fans back home. “We have always enjoyed playing in India and have been loved by Indians crowds more than crowds back home in Pakistan.”
To be fair, he could have chosen his words better, even if his statement was intended to project a message of positivity.
Apart from all the off-field matters, Afridi was under scrutiny for his form as well. His most recent scores till the Bangladesh clash read 0, 0, 2 – the latest came in the warm-up clash against Sri Lanka. With the ball, he had just two wickets in five matches.
All considered, it must have taken immense courage for Afridi to promote himself to No. 4, take charge of an innings, and decisively put it beyond Bangladesh’s reach. Or perhaps he was being opportunistic, knowing that Ahmed Shehzad and Mohmmad Hafeez had battered the bowlers with a 95-run stand, and Bangladesh were there for the taking. Either way, it was an important move in the larger context of the match.
It was a typically boisterous innings. A lap sweep to the fine leg fence off Mashrafe Mortaza, the Bangladesh captain, showed his intent early in the innings. He followed that up with something in between a flick and a pull, having had to readjust his stance to a beamer, for six off the next ball – 18 runs came off the over, and he never looked back.
As the innings progressed, Afridi broke shackles further. He made room for himself a second before the ball’s release, and proceeded to slap it over the covers. It was a move he used constantly and with great success. To be fair, he had demoralised the Bangladeshis to such an extent that their bowlers were all over the place. It was the Afridi effect.
He was eventually dismissed when a flamingo flick that could have been better connected was caught in the deep. Typically, he fell short of a half-century by one run – his last T20I half-century came in 2012 against Sri Lanka in Hambantota. He wasn’t done yet though. With the ball, he then had Sabbir Rahman and Tamim Iqbal – two in-form batsmen – dismissed to take the life out of the chase, which ebbed and frittered away.
Later, Hafeez – who scored a fine 42-ball 64 himself – didn’t need much nudging when asked to speak of Afridi. “To be honest, it is great to see someone who was under pressure from the media and from the people, coming up with such a great performance,” he said. “It shows the character he has got. It is always pleasing to see him come up and play shots everywhere. The fans love it, we love it as a team, and we know that he can take the game away from the opposition. It’s great to see him coming back to form, and with the ball also. That performance will boost his confidence and the whole team will definitely follow the momentum he has set.”
Pakistan’s campaign now has a very different feel about it.
Bowie’s Starman talks of an alien figure who brings hope of salvation to the troubled youth of Earth. Perhaps Pakistan’s starman will do the same for a troubled team.