The Kingdom of Cricket is a vast landscape, graced by many creatures. In years gone by, we’ve seen the omni-languid octopus Curtly Ambrose, his 8 limbs flailing as he sucks in his prey. We have also seen the stoic tortoise knight Cheteshwar Pujara, whose battered shell blocks all blows. These creatures are wonderfully weird in their own way and all welcome in the Kingdom of Cricket. Yesterday, in the sweltering humidity of Dubai, I saw something wonderfully wonderful. I saw a Dragon.
They call him Shaheen Shah Afridi, a grand name for a grand beast. He stands 10 foot 5 (or at least it looks it) and has a streamlined figure to match. Afridi’s scales are shaded in the dark green of Pakistan; a star beams proudly on his chest.
The Dragon’s territory is a realm we call the power-play. A place that is skewed in the favour of the batsman. Afridi doesn’t care: all he needs is a new rock at his hand, red or white, and his foes shall burn.
The Dragon is surprisingly mobile for such a lumbering stature. He stalks his prey with a fluid glide, almost as if he’s casually hovering above the surface on cruise control. And then he flies. And then he breathes fire.
There are 2 types of fast bowlers: the ones who do nothing with their wrist and the ones who do something. The Dragon does something. His wrist doesn’t just flick up and down, it flicks to the left, it flicks to the right, it flicks forwards and backwards in one hypnotic motion. It really is difficult to put a finger on but I am sure that Afridi does something with his wrist.
And then he breathes fire. The dragons in fairytales are quite one dimensional: they just blast fire in a straight line at it’s prey. Afridi is different. His fire swings, seams, bounces and deceives in equal measure all from a left arm angle. Watch his 2 already famous wickets against India: Sharma and Rahul were left overwhelmed by the amount of things that ball was doing and when they had collected themselves, the blood was long spilt.
But the dragon’s mastery of the Powerplay isn’t about his power, it’s his heart. He pitches the ball generously full, a brave test match length, in pursuit for blood. The pitch doesn’t matter, wickets do. Come what may, Afridi will never stop attacking. However, in the Death overs, his strength becomes his weakness. I might be being pedantic but in the Death, Afridi turns from a fire breathing dragon to a komodo dragon. His unquenchable thirst for wickets can sometimes inhibit his defensive iq making him deadly but not quite the Dragon. Maybe I’m being too pedantic.
Nevertheless, the Dragon is young, only 21 years of age. For one so young, he has come very far. It is important to remember that Afridi is no one match wonder, he has been breathing fire for a few years now. With time his wings shall grow and his wisdom with it. Injury withstanding, we shall witness the Dragon hover, fly and fire for years to come. A full size Shaheen Shah Afridi will be a sight to behold. Sharma and Rahul weren’t the Dragon’s first prey and they won’t be his last.