You heard tales of superheroes in Kashmir? I remember ‘akke-nandun’ or ‘Raz’ from a village who’d fight the bear single-handedly.
Growing up in Kashmir means cricket; not just playing cricket, watching it; and Pakistan cricket, boy, never did we miss that. Saeed Anwar’s centuries to Waqar-Akram’s toe-crushing yorkers, Saqlain’s consecutive 5 for’s to Akhtar’s deadly bouncers. I was a kid, but my heart too, like others’, would race as Akhtar would take that long walk back to his run up position, run in with all the energy, go past the umpire like wind and bowl his majestic deliveries with an ‘ahh’ sound, and then stare the batsmen in the eye or do that flying celebration on taking a wicket.
Our next door neighbour had a small black and white television that could be connected to a battery and our other neighbour owned a Tata Minibus. On Pakistan match days, he would stay home and take the big heavy battery out of his bus and it was kept as a standby. Power cuts were like rice on a trami i.e., mandatory, so was the readiness of these youth from our neighbourhood, ever ready with the standby supply.
While kids would be sitting on wide window shelves(Das in Kashmiri) or in the corner somewhere waiting for the host aunty to serve noon chai and a kulcha (however we had to share the kulcha and eat halves, or sometimes the ones which were broken in the basket. Elders would get the undamaged ones), tension filled the air as Pakistan’s batting had always been worrisome. While elders would debate on Wasim-Waqar tussle and Inzamam’s not so good fielding skills, youth would rather prefer to revive memories of 92 world cup and Imran Khan’s glorious time.
There was one man, however, in the Pakistan cricket team who seemed like a superhero. Pakistan would be like needing over a hundred runs in the last 8 overs and elders would argue ‘wini chu Afridi, ma sa baambriv’. This amused me as a kid, I just couldn’t comprehend how saviours like Afridi exist and give such immense hope to the fans.
I had heard about Afridi’s fastest hundred of 37 balls, which remained a world record for years together, well not many of us watched it, not live at least. I didn’t, I was too young then. 100 in 37 balls, when no T20s or leagues were around, seemed like an indomitable task. You had to see it to believe it.
The best thing about Afridi is that you have to see to believe it. Figures and stats make the feat look like impossible. His bowling records, too, are unbelievable. His 7-12 against West Indies in 2013 are the second best in ODIs, ever.
Afridi’s most remarkable innings, for a grown up me, came in Kanpur. The carnage that took place there gave me solitude. It came against India, in India. What a relief it was.
Later, in a blog, I read this, “I never could believe the Nairobi hundred (1996 37-ball hundred) was true because I couldn’t imagine a 37-ball hundred, but now I can.”
In a tri-series against Australia and West-Indies in 2006, we had got an inverter(power backup) by then, so I wouldn’t go to neighbours’ during power cuts, and times had changed. So in the tri-series, I was old enough to understand, and that’s when Afridi became my real Koshur superhero. He would hit McGrath, or any deadliest bowler for that matter, for six over covers like a hot knife would go through butter.
He would rip apart Ricky Ponting’s stumps and make such legend’s defence look like high school cricket.
Back home, in Kashmir, heroes had just saved hundreds of thousands of people from a catastrophe.
2005 hit us with a deadly earthquake causing huge damage to life and property. Then in early 2006, another calamity hit us, this time in a different colour. Snowfall broke decades-old records and posed a threat to a larger population, many of whom had been rendered homeless due to the earthquake. I remember volunteers going door to door collecting blankets, jackets, sweaters and food to be delivered to far off areas like Tangdaar and Uri. Superhero stuff.
September 2014, when the devastating floods ravaged Kashmir, chances of us Kashmiris overcoming the loss looked bleak. Harsh winters were coming, with tens of thousands of houses razed to ground rendering so many people homeless, an even bigger tragedy seemed inevitable.
However, the fighting spirit of Kashmiris makes us look to the storm in the eye and overcome it together. Everyone got together and made efforts to the best of one’s capacity and ensured that we rise again.
2016 hit us with an even bigger calamity but our fighting spirit was alive. Volunteers’ camps outside hospitals, the ambulance drivers braving the pellet-shelling and baton charging by troops were the heroes.
Now that Afridi is retired, his foundation SAF has built hospitals, funded thousands of poor children and given them education, brought a clean water supply to hundreds of Pakistan villages. In fact, he is the only cricketer in the top 20 charity giving athletes.
An electrifying fielder, he’d seldom let anything past him. Afridi was the force, the energy in the field.
The same person, however, broke my heart, not once. He has made me bang my head, break our television remotes, even my grandfather’s reading glasses. His unpredictability might as well have given every Kashmiri a heartache. He would take the match so close and then when all would seem like safe sail home, he would do something so so silly, that you’d only curse yourself.
This made me love him even more though because you never knew when he’s gonna deliver and how. Dhonis, Saurav’s and Dravids would set their fields so peculiar and Harbhajans bowl so to the field, yet Afridi would deliver this out the box shots and sail over the fence like he did absolutely nothing. Magical it was. pure magic.
Talk about bowling? Opponents would be going smoothly at 8 an over in the first 10 overs without losing any wicket. In comes Afridi, first ball, a miss. Second ball, a ripper through the defence.
And boy, his style of celebration, raise two hands in the air and fingers pointing to the heavens. Absolute superhero stuff.
India-Pakistan Asia Cup Match- March 2, 2014
I wanted to be shown fancy numbers about the likelihood of Pakistan winning after Afridi crosses over off the last ball of the penultimate over to get off strike and not being there for the first ball of the last over when 10 are needed, two wickets are in hand and he is the man charged with winning it.
And then when, because of him, Saeed Ajmal is bowled off the very first ball and that leaves Afridi needing, at best, 9 off four balls. And then Junaid Khan picking up the most important single in Pakistan’s history since the one before Miandad’s six at Sharjah.
Imagine two successive Afridi mistimed hits going for six, in the last over, winning a game, winning the game to win (the Asia Cup merely being an excuse to see Pakistan play India).
What were the chances, eh? Of that scythe over extra cover (ish) and that cross-batted heave that somehow goes towards long-on (ish) going over the rope, when they both for so long held the same illusory quality that Misbah-ul-Haq’s paddle in Johannesburg in 2007 did? They had to drop into a fielder’s hands, right? At least one? When they fell over it felt like only a great surge of belief and prayer had pushed them over.
Being alive and being able to witness Afridi play is something I consider myself being blessed about, among many other things.
And being able to witness the two Sixes of Mirpur, is an accomplishment. Now, just like the elders in the room would say they have witnessed the six by Miandad off Chetan Sharma in Sharjah. I can proudly tell me kids that I watched Afridi hit(actually mistimed) Ashwin for two sixes and win it for Pakistan. This match, however, later caused a lot of trouble for Kashmiris, outside of Kashmir, who were expelled from their universities and were charged with sedition. Butt-hurt university administration much? You never know.
India-Pakistan Clash In T20 World Cup 2016 – Mohali
Afridi at the toss praised the Kashmiri fans who had come a long way to support his team and my heart skipped a beat. Watching from thousands of kilometres away, I felt like I was there, right beside him and him looking at me with gratitude; and once Pakistan lost the match and Afridi announced his retirement (well, he unretired later), his interview with Harsha, again he mentions the K word and again my heart skips beats.
Ever since Afridi retired, I haven’t felt so connected to my favourite team and haven’t followed them so rigorously. He is the man who made me love this game, and without him, it is not the same.
Afridi is that Kashmiri kind of superhero who can come from nowhere and save you; sometimes though, he likes you watch you drown.
But you love him anyway.
PS: I love you Afridi.
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