Musings (contd…)

Imran Nazir was blazing away when Pakistan decided to return a favour to the Lankans and lost two quick wickets to run-outs. Hadn’t we seen this one time too many? This phenomenally talented team from the other side of the border self-destructing after a bright start. A cramped Nazir was done in by his ‘runner’ Afridi who took off for an impossible third and was caught woefully short by an accurate Jayasuria throw. Nazir departed for a quickfire 38 which included a viciously pulled six off a Malinga (who else?) no-ball. As usual the Lankans were alert and agile in the field and a fierce throw by Kapugedara found Butt in no man’s land after a yes-no exchange with Mohd. Yousuf. Yousuf couldn’t make amends as he was soon deceived by a seemingly innocuous leg-cutter by Maharoof. The ball appeared to be suspended in space and the batsmen merely watched it rattle onto the off-stump. The Pakistanis were now four down for 105 and a brilliant start had all been undone.

Somehow, this was familiar territory for Pakistan as well as Sri Lanka. The Lankans have been past masters at strangulating their opposition during chases, and the Pakis have been known to squander gift horses with reckless abandon. All this must have preyed on skipper Shoaib Malik’s mind as he strode in and was joined by Kamran Akmal in the middle.

Pakistan needed 131 off the last 20 overs with Malik and Akmal desperate not to yield an inch. But then the unfortunate happened. Continuing the spate of mix-ups Malik was run out by a brilliant retrieval at the boundary by Tharanga. In walked Afridi, who was offered a few words of advice by his skipper as he was leaving the arena.

Times aplenty Shahid Afridi has flattered to deceive, but even he would have admitted that the situation was tailor made for his brand of cricket. Two good overs would have swung the pendulum the crescent’s way. He took cautious singles off the first few balls. The asking rate of barely over five runs an over did not demand any batting calisthenics.

And then all hell broke loose. He unleashed a flurry of boundaries – Jayasuriya for consecutive fours, Bandara over cover and then straight back, but the best was yet to come. Afridi had something special planned for Bandara’s last over – Two screeching fours followed by four stupendous sixes – one of which was barely four feet above the ground in its flat journey to the advertisement hoarding. It was a 32 run over (4 4 6 6 6 6). Suddenly, a match which promised much more drama was turned into a no-contest by a man capable of ferocious hitting. This was what the world had waited for with bated breath during the World Cup. But then Afridi has a penchant for being unimaginably talented and infuriatingly callous. He also belongs to that rare breed of batters who try dispatching every ball to the boundary irrespective of the situation/ bowler/ pitch/ weather etc.

Needless to say, the Pakistanis raced to the target with 5 wickets to spare as Akmal smashed the winning boundary and reached 50 in the process. The Pathan ended with 73 off 34 balls (8 fours and 4 sixes.) Many thanks Shahid, for the unadulterated, unbridled power that you bring to the game in an age dominated by bare statistics.

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