This article was written for and published in Express Tribune Pakistan and Teen Ink USA.
My first interaction with Shahid Afridi lasted a couple of seconds. It was just a shake of the hands with a big smile on his clean shaved face, and why not. It was 16th March 2004 to be exact. Pakistan had beaten India in the 2nd ODI of the Samsung Cup and Shahid Afridi who had been recalled in the team after a long gap had played a big part in victory by scoring 80(58) and also taking 2 wickets for 57 runs.
Shahid Afridi back then was all about Carefree-ness. You could see it in his behavior, the way he talked, the way he moved, the way he had a smile on his face. Back then Shahid Afridi was all about passion. You could see it in his bowling and you could see it in his batting and the way he fielded. Back then he was a Super Star. You could see the way crowd chanted his name and wanted him to hit a six every ball when he came out to bat, you could see all the banners with his name written, you could see the crowd going mad when he fielded near the boundary ropes. His bowling was a bonus in those days.
My next memorable interaction with Afridi was during the 2005/06 series after he had smashed Harbhajan Singh for four sixes in an over and that too during a the first Test Match in Lahore scoring a magnificent 102 runs with 7 sixes. He still had that smile on his face with the slightest of beard now.
"Autograph please" I said. My voice barely coming out.
" Idahar lao, naam kya hai tumhara? " He said. In his heavy voice. I handed him the tennis ball.
"Raafay", I said.
He signed the tennis ball. No words, nothing else written. I was disappointed, grabbing the ball with my hand and turning away.
"Left hander ho?" He said again.
"Yes" I said.
''Cricket kheltay ho?" He said again.
"Jee". I said.
"Shabash, good luck" He said.
I felt overwhelmed and ran away to tell everything that happened to anyone I could tell.
He went on to score another century in the next match with the same carelessness, same passion. By now religion was starting to play important role in his life, it was obvious. Praying five times a day even during the match days was a normal routine by now. His batting was more consistent than before his bowling was worth bowling him 10 overs during the ODI matches with four players all on the of side to stop runs. Crowd still wanted him to hit a six every ball and he was willing to oblige. Nothing much had changed about Afridi in the cricketing sense, he was still the same.
Last of my memorable interaction with Shahid Afridi was during the World Cup 2011. Pakistan had beaten Srilanka just two days ago. Shahid Afridi was man of the match with the figures of 4/34 in his 10 overs. His beard had grown thicker, He was more stronger now, Shaking his hands told you the power he had. Religion had its showing on him.
"InshaAllah" was a common word with most of the sentences he said. "InshaAllah we will reach the Semi Final if we keep on playing like this" He said.
That Smile was still on his face but you could tell he was a lot more measured in everything he did now, he wanted to lead by an example. His bowling had come of age in the past 2 to 3 years, easily the best leg spinner in the shorter format commentators would say. Taking a wicket with his hands aloft in the air, legs stretched wide, standing like hero is a familiar sight for cricket lovers now. His batting was sensible now. He still hits bowlers out of the park, not on the requests of his bowlers but at his own will. They still call him BOOM BOOM though.
As Cricinfo simplifies it "Of Shahid Afridi it can safely be said that cricket never has and never will see another like him. To say he is an allrounder is to say Albert Einstein was a scientist. " A complete Super Star, easily the most loved one in Pakistan and around the world. He became a heartthrob after his first cricket match, he still is all around the world, he will always be a heartthrob of millions until the day cricket is played.
Happy Birthday SHAHID AFRIDI ! Long may you live, Long may you keep entertaining, long may you serve Pakistan. Ameen!