Known more for his long ball-striking abilities and sharp quickish leg-breaks, Shahid Afridi unleashed the third dimension of his game, pulling off a spectacular running-catch to get rid of Scott Styris in a 2009 T20 World Cup fixture at The Oval.
Still reeling from the fallout of coach Bob Woolmer’s death after their elimination from the 2007 World Cup, Pakistan cricket was languishing in the doldrums. Off the pitch, the squad was divided, blown apart by infighting and personnel changes, while on it, they hadn’t won a Test for two years. But this was Pakistan, never more dangerous than when cornered. Runners-up in the 2007 ICC World Twenty20 and unbeaten in the format since then, there was unfinished business this time round.
Defeat in their first group match to Sri Lanka left the Pakistanis needing a win against New Zealand to stay in the competition. Bowling first, Younis Khan’s men grabbed four early wickets but Scott Styris led the fightback as New Zealand recovered to 73-4 in the 13th over. The next wicket was vital and Younis Khan, the captain, needed someone to step up.
Enter Afridi. After being taken on by Styris in his third over that went for eight runs, he trudged to his position at mid-on, muttering to himself and angrily flicking his cap. Styris continued, swinging at Umar Gul’s first two deliveries but failing to connect, before evading a wild bouncer to the third.
Next ball, he connected. The ball flew off the splice. It looked to be landing safely, but Afridi, running back from deep mid-on, sprinted towards the long-on boundary with his eyes fixed on the prize. No more than five metres from the boundary, he lunged forward and snaffled the catch, stopping a metre inside the rope and performing his trademark celebration.
Styris was stunned. Afridi had his catch, Younis had his wicket, and Pakistan had their spark of inspiration. They tore into New Zealand, rolling them out for 99 en route to completing a six-wicket victory. Three wins later and Pakistan were champions, with Afridi man of the match in the final.
First published in May 2012.