It has been quite a while since I have had the chance to meet a cricketer in person. This past weekend I was fortunate to meet one of my favorite current cricketers and definitely one of the most exciting ones the game knows. The experience was rewarding.
Shahid Afridi is currently on a US tour doing fund raising for water projects in Baluchistan. This is a cricket blog and I will not comment on this any further apart from saying that this is a noble cause for which Afridi is passionate and genuinely and whole-hearted involved. For this passion he has even further won my respect and admiration because now it is not only for him as a cricketer but also for Afridi the person.
Afridi agreed to my doing an interview after the fund raising but once the fund raising was over the mood was solemn for both of us as really compared to the plight of the people in Baluchistan without clean water cricket did not seem all that import. Both of us chatted for a bit instead.
Afridi really impressed me as a person. He has a witty sense of humor which was apparent both by his quick-witted remarks in his presentation and his jokes when chatting with me. He is moved by this issue for which he is campaigning and it really reflected a 'seriousness' to his personality which some of his strongest critics have lashed out on. His drive, determination is admirable and I think he has that both in his professional and personal life.
The event organizers were commenting on how at US Airports Afridi has had quite a few spectators waiting to catch a glimpse of the flamboyant celebrity. The interesting thing was that all the fans at the airports were Indian and there were no Pakistani fans at the airport. The author of this blog is also guilty of not being present to receive Afridi at San Francisco airport :-)
In my opinion Afridi is the kind of player that you need to give a free reign to, within bounds of course and I think he does a great job of staying within those bounds. There have been great players in various sports throughout the ages that have had this free flowing style which is difficult to coach. I am sure no other basketball player is or will ever be coached like Michael Jordan; the snippet of Phil Jackson turning to Jordan and simply saying, "Michael" and then giving him the look is being played again in my mind. Then you have Federer who has played for the longest time without a coach and is without doubt the most dominant and the best tennis player in the world!
I am not putting Afridi at the same level as those two athletes who can easily say they are the best in their field, but still feel that Afridi is one of those players that needs to be coached differently and perhaps less than other players. Some of Afridi's centuries have been innings were he has blasted all bowlers all over and out of the ground and then he has gotten out to a forward defensive shot. The century against India when he got bowled by Harbhajan on a forward defensive prod comes to mind.
I think Afridi needs to know which position he is going to be batting - and I for one do not want to see him open and would like to see him come lower down the order. He needs to be communicated what his job/role is and then he needs to be allowed the freedom to get the results as best he sees fit. I think with this formula more often than not he will succeed.
Afridi over the last couple of years has shown determination and has applied that to his bowling. He is one of our best ODI bowlers and I feel warrants a place in the side just on the basis of his bowling and fielding and exuberant on field presence. His clean and powerful hitting is just an added skill he brings to the field.
I end with a warning that if you ever meet Afridi, count your fingers after shaking hands with him; he has got one of the firmest hand shake that I have ever seen!