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It’s official: Shaheen Shah Afridi is an all-format titan

by Sarah Waris 5 minute read

Pakistan speedster Shaheen Afridi has been named ICC’s Men’s Cricketer of the Year for 2021 following an inspired performance across formats, which already puts him on a pedestal sitting among the modern-day greats.

Across 36 international matches last year, Shaheen picked up 78 wickets, the most by any bowler in the world. He bagged 47 scalps in Tests, the highest by a quick, and the second-highest overall, at an average of 17.06. His average was bettered only by Lungi Ngidi and Hasan Ali among fast bowlers with at least 20 wickets in 2021. He ended with a strike rate of 37.3, with Hasan being the only other fast bowler who picked up more than 30 wickets at a strike rate of less than 40.

The quick was not among the highest wicket-takers in ODIs, grabbing only eight wickets in the six matches that he played at an economy rate of 6.30, but he dominated the shortest format, taking 23 wickets in 21 matches at an average of 26.04 and a strike rate of 19.8 balls per wicket. He displayed exceptional bowling skills in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in the UAE, where his seven wickets in six games helped Pakistan qualify for the semi-finals of the tournament. His pace consistently troubled the best batters in the world, but what stood out last year was his increased impact in wins and crucial matches for Pakistan.

A big-match player

Shaheen’s temperament and his calmness under pressure came to the fore in the high-intensity clash against India in the T20 World Cup last year. He got the crucial wicket of Rohit Sharma within four deliveries of the match, nailing a yorker that swung in with high pace on middle-stump. He dismissed Rohit’s partner KL Rahul with the first ball of the third over, getting the batter out with yet another unplayable delivery that swing back in to dismantle his stumps. Virat Kohli was his third victim of the night, Shaheen dismissing the then-India skipper with an angled-across delivery, which was edged by the batter to the wicketkeeper.

He went on to take four more wickets in the tournament, conceding less than six runs an over three times in the competition, but it was his showing against India that set the stage for the team.

In Tests, Afridi was the standout Pakistan bowler in wins, averaging an impressive 16. The team played nine five-day games last year, winning seven, in which Afridi picked up 37 wickets at a strike rate of 35.4, with the help of three five-fors. He ended with the most wickets in wins, tied at the top with Hasan, 13 more than the next fast bowler on the list, Mohammed Siraj. The only quicks with more than 15 wickets in Test wins in 2021 with a better average than Afridi’s 16 were Kyle Jamieson (average of 9.88), James Anderson (11.86), and Hasan (15.35), which puts him in an impressive league.

However, what further stands out for Shaheen is the fact that most of his performances came in conditions that do not have the greatest assistance for the fast bowlers. He played four Tests in Asia in 2021, grabbing 17 wickets at an average of 19.64 with a strike rate of 43.5, the second-best strike rate among quicks with at least 15 wickets in the continent in Tests last year. In T20Is, he grabbed 15 wickets in Asia in 12 matches, conceding 6.97 runs an over with a strike rate of 18.8. The only quicks with more wickets at a better economy rate and strike rate in T20Is were Mustafizur Rahman and Josh Hazlewood in the continent.

Where he stands among the greats

Afridi has only played 21 Tests, 28 ODIs and 39 T20Is in his career thus far, but has already suggested he can take a place among the greats. He has 86 wickets to his name in the longest format, which is the fourth-most by a Pakistan quick after playing 21 Tests. Waqar Younis (108 wickets), Mohammad Asif (102) and Fazal Mahmood (93) are the only fast bowlers with more Test wickets than him after 21 Test matches for Pakistan.

In ODIs, the 21-year-old has 53 wickets after 28 matches. Only 13 bowlers have taken more wickets at the same stage of their careers. Overall, he has the second-most wickets from Pakistan in the format after playing 28 games in a list that is topped by Hasan, who had scalped 59 wickets after he had played 28 ODIs.

Shaheen joins an illustrious list of names to have won the Garfield Sobers Trophy. The others to have done so include Virat Kohli and Ricky Ponting (twice each), as well as Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis. There are plenty of big names never to have won the award too. First handed out in 2004, none of Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers, or Alastair Cook claimed the gong, while Kane Williamson is a notable current player not to have been honoured.

Aged just 21 years old, Shaheen is the youngest ever recipient of the award. It’s unlikely to be the last record he breaks.


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