Friday, June 19, 2009

Brilliance worth all the heartbreaks

Eleven supremely fit and ruthlessly efficient cricketers, on top of their game, had their dreams of a first-ever world title ended by one audacious man. That cricket is a team game is an oft repeated cliché but South Africa were eliminated from the World Twenty20 at Trent Bridge solely because of Shahid Afridi's intensity and all-round skill.
Pakistan were yet to win a game against significant opposition in the tournament because of a team performance. They lost to England and Sri Lanka, beat minnows Netherlands and Ireland, and relied on Umar Gul to rout New Zealand. Their players hadn't contributed collectively and so it was unlikely all 11 players would maximise potential against opponents as able as South Africa. To have a hope of playing at Lord's on Sunday, Pakistan needed individual brilliance from one of their matchwinners: probably Gul, possibly Younis Khan, or perhaps Misbah-ul-Haq.
Instead, it came from Afridi. Pakistan and Afridi supporters always hope that it will come from him. They roar him to the crease, brimming with optimism, hoping he will destroy the opposition with his recklessly cavalier approach. Thousands of fans celebrated his arrival at the crease at Trent Bridge after Pakistan had lost Shahzaib Hasan in the second over.
Did they know that Afridi's last half-century, in any format of the game, came 28 innings ago, against Zimbabwe at Multan in 2008? And the one before that was 19 innings earlier, against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi in 2007? It didn't matter, for when it comes to Afridi, there's always reason to hope. He'll disappoint more often than not, but his successes are so spectacular that it's worth the heartbreaks.

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