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T20 World Cup 2021

Shaheen Shah Afridi, the antidote in the age of the batter, takes his own medicine

by Cameron Ponsonby 4 minute read

Cameron Ponsonby reflects on one of T20 cricket’s great doomed performances from Shaheen Shah Afridi.

Professional cricketers are really good. Batters in particular spend years honing their craft as they hit ball after ball and throwdown after throwdown for days, months and years upon end. In an interview with The Grade Cricketer, England batter Zak Crawley mentioned that a question had been floating around the England dressing room about how many balls they reckoned Joe Root had hit in his career. They settled on roughly a million.

The result is the level of cricket that you see in front of you. A world where Steve Smith has developed a batting technique where he literally stands in front of his stumps on the basis that he’ll never miss the ball. A world where the white-ball game has phenomena like Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Aaron Finch bullying bowling attacks on every continent across the world with run rates going up and more sixes being hit than ever before. The bats are big, the biceps are bigger and the grounds look tiny in comparison.


Shaheen Shah Afridi has been the antidote to all of this. Steaming in with the new ball in hand, he has made world-class players look like lucky dip winners. YouTubers whose latest video idea is to get the local pro down to see if they can survive an over without losing their wicket or dignity in the process. In Pakistan’s match against India, Rohit Sharma lasted one ball whilst KL Rahul managed four. In today’s semi-final, Aaron Finch produced the day’s content by getting his front pad blown off from his very first delivery. Thanks for watching guys, if you liked this video then don’t forget to like and subscribe, we have new videos out every week.

It’s modern day entertainment in it’s truest form. The ball will only swing for an over or three and so our dopamine rush is now. And there to deliver it is Afridi. The bowler whose skill is of a classical musician but whose current platform is TikTok with each delivery ready to be clipped up and shared on social media as soon as it is released.

And the thing is, Shaheen Shah Afridi provides on this front every week. Earlier in the tournament, ESPN Cricinfo’s Osman Samiuddin noted that from the 61 occasions Afridi has bowled the first over of a T20 innings in his career, he has taken a wicket on 20 of them. That’s a one in three chance that an opening batter fails to make it to the second over of the match when Afridi has ball in hand, and after he took the wicket of Sharma last week and Finch today his record now stands at 22 out of 67. Like, subscribe, etc etc.

What furthers the allure of Afridi is that there is no secret to him. He is not deceiving batters through sleight of hand or mystery spin but by simply performing at a level that is higher than his opponents can handle. The dismissals of Sharma, Rahul and Finch were not deliveries that just beat them for pace, or just snuck past their inside edge, but balls that in that moment in time were devastatingly superior to what they could muster in reply. These are players who, without exaggeration, are likely to have literally hit one million balls in their lifetimes and yet were unable to get within three bat widths of this one from Shaheen.

What’s more is that all of this occurs even when the world knows what to expect when Afridi is at the top of his mark. On commentary today, Sam Curran said that Aaron Finch should be watching out for his front pad roughly seven seconds before Finch was given out LBW. And he wasn’t alone in knowing, because we all did. The ball is going to be full, it’s going to be fast and it’s going to swing. And yet there is nothing you can do about it. Afridi is the cricketing equivalent of the ‘“four chord rule’ in music. The idea that each and every pop song you have ever heard is made up of the same four chords, played over and over and over and yet we are helpless to do anything about it and purchase it en masse. Everyone’s in on it. Everyone knows. And yet it still works every time.

The problem, however, is that professional cricketers are really good. Batters in particular spend years honing their craft as they hit ball after ball and throwdown after throwdown for days, months and years upon end. And whilst Afridi is without doubt at his unplayable best with the new ball in his hand, when that shine deteriorates and the playing field levels, a batter’s biceps begin to bulge once more.

Today, Shaheen Shah Afridi had bowled 21 balls of his allotted 24 and gone for just 17 runs. His next three went for 18 as Matthew Wade saw Australia to a dramatic victory with three consecutive sixes. Afridi was so close to glory and yet undeservedly ended up as the fall guy in a campaign he has dominated and provided countless memories from. Afridi may have ended up on the losing side today, but he will continue to be the antidote to many a world-class batter for years to come.

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