@ovshake42 3 minute read
Unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably aware of something called Ifti Mania doing rounds on social media. Abhishek Mukherjee explains why it is here to stay.
Iftikhar Ahmed is 32, but cricket fans twice his age affectionately call him Ifti chacha (uncle). When you ask why, they will tell you they do not believe that age.
Honestly, if you look at the mugshots, you can see their point. You cannot blame them for chacha-zoning him.
But then you watch him play. You watch him step out at 15-2 in a World Cup match against India, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan gone, you watch him block and nudge until the spinners come on, then hit four sixes in six balls.
Chacha is set to be the toast of the cricket world that night with his 34-ball 51. Virat Kohli ruins everything.
Eleven days later, Pakistan are QudratKaNizaming their way towards a World Cup final against Pak Bean and lesser odds. Mohammad Haris steps out of wilderness to give them a start. And then chacha is at it again. This time his 51 takes one more ball.
Two matches, 102 runs in 69 balls. The rest of the World Cup, 24 balls, 15 runs, three dismissals. You can see why chacha is a cult hero. His inconsistency stands out even in a cricketing team as gloriously random as Pakistan.
Oh, and there is the little matter of foxing Najmul Hossain Shanto the first time chacha bowls in the tournament. Shanto is Bangladesh’s top-scorer in the match.
There had to be a Bangladesh connection somewhere, for Bangladesh is where the Mania – the M is deliberately capitalised – begins after Fortune Bairshal sign up, knowingly or otherwise, the Mania.
It all begins with an humble 13 against Sylhet Strikers. If there is a hint in the unbeaten 25 against Rangpur Riders – including, of course, the six that seals the match – we do not catch it.
In the Chattogram Challengers match he emerges in the 13th over and blasts an unbeaten 26-ball 57. Comilla Victorians get him for a mere five. Little do we realise that chacha is simply giving his batting average a chance at normalcy.
Barishal were 46-4 inside the powerplay when he walks out against Rangpur Riders. At the other end is Shakib Al Hasan, one of the greatest 21st-century cricketers. At the BPL, he is everything. He takes down oppositions and umpires here.
But now Shakib is left behind, on a mere 89, from 43 balls. For once, the word ‘mere’ does not look out of place next to a score like that – for Iftikhar Ahmed had blasted his way to a 45-ball 100 at the other end.
Ifti Mania – the hues, the dark shades, the retro font, the display picture, the hashtag, everything – is born that night. You can see that he looks every bit of it.
— Iftikhar Ahmad (@IftiAhmed221) January 19, 2023
Shadab Khan, merely Pakistan’s vice-captain, perhaps the most important cricketer in the side but a mortal and no more, asks for a ticket to the Mania. Teammate Khushdil Shah reminds Shadab that at 24, he is older than Iftikhar, 32. Iftikhar plays along and offers a VIP ticket.
— Iftikhar Ahmad (@IftiAhmed221) January 20, 2023
Shadab, winner of many a battle on the field but no match for the legend, now drags Naseem Shah into it. “We used to watch Naseem when we were young,” he reminds Iftikhar.
— Shadab Khan (@76Shadabkhan) January 21, 2023
Naseem, never one to lose a duel, reminds the audience that as the elder brother, it is his responsibility to arrange for Shadab’s wedding. Shadab reminds Naseem that the elder brother should get married first.
Naseem bhai ap barray ho, pehle shadi barray bhai ki. https://t.co/RThKaAg1l3
— Shadab Khan (@76Shadabkhan) January 22, 2023
Meanwhile, Iftikhar has walked away from the conversation. There is no space for casual banter in the life of a legend. Coming out at 63-4, he hits 56 not out in 34 balls against the Dhaka Dominators.
Iftikhar has hit one of three hundreds in this tournament until now – and the only one at a rate of over two runs a ball. The batting average of 128 (that too because of that innings of five) is obviously the highest. His runs (256) and strike rate (182) are next to only Shakib’s. His 18 sixes are the most.
In BPL history, that strike rate is the best. This is his first season, you may say. Whose fault is it, then, that he wasn’t picked before, we shall ask.
Not his fault that the world was late to this Mania.
If they still don’t wake up to this Mania and embrace it, it won’t be his fault either.