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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April, 2005, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Crowd pleaser Afridi does it again
By Scott Heinrich

Shahid Afridi
One-day matches: 204
Runs: 4,523 at an ave of 24.3
Strike rate: 105.7
100s: 4; 50s: 25; Ducks: 17
Test matches: 17
Runs: 984 at 32.8

In this golden era of run-scoring, where bat is master and ball is slave, there are several pretenders to the mantle of the cleanest hitter around.

The mind instantly turns to England's six-thirsty hero Andrew Flintoff, while Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya, India's Virender Sehwag and Aussie basher Adam Gilchrist are also in the frame.

But facts and figures point to one man standing above them all, Pakistan's 25-year-old pinch-hitter Shahid Afridi.

Afridi's demolition of India in Kanpur - where he thrashed a century off just 45 balls - would count as a career highlight for most cricketers.

Not for Afridi, whose whirlwind knock registers as the joint second-fastest ton in one-day history - behind his own 37-ball effort against Sri Lanka in Nairobi in 1996.

The right-hander's career has been crafted on a single-minded compulsion to hit big and hit fast, regardless of the quality of the opposition.

That day against Sri Lanka, the first of Afridi's 195 one-day knocks, legendary off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan conceded 73 runs and Jayasuriya a whopping 94.

No batsman has hit more sixes in limited-overs cricket, his nine against India taking him 19 clear of Jayasuriya in second place.

1: S Afridi 203 in 195 inns (Strike rate: 1.04)
2: S Jaysr'ya 188 in 325 (0.57)
3: S Ganguly 168 in 262 (0.64)
4: C Cairns 147 in 184 (0.79)
5: S Tend'kar 144 in 337 (0.42)
6: Inz-ul-Haq 133 in 316 (0.42)
7: V Richards 126 in 167 (0.75)
25: A Flintoff 73 in 71 (1.02)

Revealingly, his strike rate of 1.04 sixes per innings is head and shoulders above his nearest pursuers, with Flintoff the only other player averaging one per knock.

Afridi's box-office ability to reduce attacks to nervous wrecks does not, however, to elevate him to the echelons of an all-time great batsman.

In terms of technique, Afridi bears no comparison to artists of the past who have worn the Star of Pakistan, practitioners like Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad.

His selling point is his voracious - almost naive - appetite for quick runs, coupled with excellent hand-eye co-ordination and an ability to improvise.

Of course, Afridi is too extreme for Test cricket, and even in the short game he is always just one delivery away from being dismissed.

Shahid Afridi
Afridi is given freedom to slog by Pakistan, who know his game well

In Kanpur, his boundary down the ground to reach triple figures, struck with a diagonal bat, was followed by a rare forward defensive which allowed the ball to trickle beneath his defence and bowl him.

And Leicestershire fans will not forget Afridi's reckless innings in the 2001 C&G Trophy final, where he blazed 20 off nine balls before giving catching practice to a Somerset fielder.

Afridi embodies unpredictability but Pakistan know exactly what they are getting.

Why else would they give a man who averages 24 and is dismissed for single-figure scores in over a third of his innings a 200-match career?

They have persisted with Afridi because he is that rare creature in professional sport, a genuine match-winner.

That his incredible talents actually win matches only once in a while is neither here nor there to his fans, who rightly recognise this flawed genius as cult hero of cricket.

Report: Kamlesh Purohit for BBC Sport


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