For all-rounder Afridi, records are made to be broken
Shahid Afridi will arrive in Hong Kong this week full of hope at the prospect of playing for Pakistan on the international stage once again.
Afridi, one of Pakistan's greatest limited-overs players, was dumped as captain in May after he had led his team to victory over the West Indies in the Caribbean. Differences between coach Waqar Younis and then Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ijaz Butt forced Afridi to take the drastic action of announcing a conditional retirement from international cricket - that there would need to be changes at the top if he was to return.
That wish was granted last week when Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari appointed banker Zaka Ashraf as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, thus removing the last obstacle in Afridi's way. Younis had resigned as coach after Pakistan's tour of Zimbabwe last month and has been replaced by Moshin Khan for the current series against Sri Lanka.
Perhaps the Hong Kong Sixes is fortunate that the change in the guard has taken place now, and that the one-day series against Sri Lanka will only start next month, otherwise Afridi might not have been able to take his place among the All Stars when the action gets under way on Friday at the Kowloon Cricket Club.
'I feel I still have a lot to offer my country in the limited-overs format. Now that the conditions have improved, I'm available for Pakistan,' Afridi said.
The 31-year-old all-rounder has been a standout in the shorter form of the game, mostly with the ball in recent times. A right-arm leg-spinner, Afridi captained Pakistan to the semi-finals at this year's World Cup - they lost to eventual champions India - and finished as joint-highest wicket-taker with a haul of 21 scalps. 'I have full confidence in my bowling and was fully geared up to have a good World Cup with the ball,' Afridi said.
But it has been with the bat that he has endeared himself to millions of his compatriots. An aggressive and fearless batsman, Afridi holds the record for the fastest century in one-day cricket. His hundred off just 37 balls against Sri Lanka in Nairobi is the fastest ODI century. But he treasures the ton he made off 45 balls against India as the more precious knock. That innings in Kanpur in April 2005, broke a nine-year mark held by Sri Lankan and All-Stars teammate Sanath Jayasuriya, who had scored a ton off 48 balls.
'My innings in Kanpur will always stand out although my debut in Kenya against Sri Lanka is also memorable,' said Afridi, a veteran of 325 one-day internationals.
Afridi also came close to overhauling Jayasuriya's record for the fastest 50 - off 17 balls - when he reached a half-century from 18 deliveries in 2002. But those heady days with the bat, for which he earned the nickname 'Boom Boom', seem to have drifted by.
Hong Kong fans will hope his touch returns next weekend for the dynamic all-rounder also holds the record for the most number of ODI sixes - 289. This is another record he took from Jayasuriya, who held the previous mark of 270. Has his chase of Jayasuriya been intentional?
'Sanath is a great player and to beat his records is special, but to say I planned it would do the feat an injustice,' says Afridi.
A passionate competitor, Afridi will only regret that his return from the wilderness didn't come a tad earlier, before he had committed to playing for the All Stars at the Sixes. He would have loved to have led his country to a fifth Cup title in Hong Kong.
But knowing the way is now clear for him to return will lift a heavy burden from his shoulders, and many former cricketers have backed him to be in the national side soon.
'It's a pleasant development,' former leg-spinner Abdul Qadir told a Pakistan newspaper. 'Afridi is an asset. The board should utilise him and put any previous misunderstandings behind them.'
Former captain Wasim Akram said: 'Afridi can play for Pakistan for a few more years. He should help youngsters with his experience.'
But perhaps the most telling comment came from current coach Moin Khan, who said Afridi was a star and that 'the team need him'.
Sixes scored by Shahid Afridi in one-day internationals