Pakistan are always my favourite team to watch at the World Cup. They lurch like a drunken fool from catastrophe to success. Never predictable, always riveting.
The embodiment of this style of cricket can be found in their mercurial all-rounder. Shahid Afridi is entering his fifth world cup, and he is still as much of an enigma as he ever was.
He is an easy pick as one of my players to watch at the World Cup over the next few weeks. His form will, in all likelihood, be a clear marker of how his team will fare. If ‘Boom Boom’ can fire, then he has the ability and personality to drag his entire team along with him.
Afridi has recently cited losing his record for the fastest ODI century as a major incentive for his renewed lease of life. For a player who turns 35 during the tournament he appears to be ageless.
However, I certainly can’t see Afridi regaining his crown as the world best ODI hitter. His time as a batsman has definitely come and gone. His batting has tailed off quite abruptly over the past four years, but in the recent ODI’s both in the UAE and in New Zealand against the Kiwi’s, he made 3 half centuries in 7 innings. He still retains the destructive hitting of his youth, hopefully the wisdom of his years can help him to deploy his most audacious shots at the opportune moments.
While his prowess as an ODI dasher is unquestionable, it is for his ability with the ball, that he makes it onto my list. With Saeed Ajmal missing, he will be the leading spinner for Pakistan, and the most experienced bowler by a ludicrous distance. His 393 ODI wickets place him over 330 wickets ahead of Wahab Riaz; his nearest rival.
Afridi will be required to keep his cool, and to lead the attack, in Pakistan’s pursuit for World Cup. In Misbah Ul-Haq, Pakistan have the perfect man to counter Afridi and to perhaps keep him under control. Misbah’s skill as a captain thus far, has been to unite his side during a period of unparalleled turmoil. It would be his greatest success were he to capture World Cup glory; he will need to regulate his maverick leg spinner to have any hope of doing so.
2015 will probably represent Afridi’s last chance to win the World Cup, and for a man who has made his name in the ODI format, it would fitting for him to play a part in his country’s success.
Whether he plays well or not, I’m sure of one thing. I’ll enjoy watching Afridi play over the next 6 weeks. His style and sense of showmanship has never failed him, and on the grandest of stages, I doubt it will this time round either.