Awesome Afridi flattens West Indies!

Pakistan 224 for 9 (Afridi 76, Misbah 52, Holder 4-13) beat West Indies 98 (Afridi 7 for 12) by 126 runs

Shahid Afridi is the Man of the Match: ‘I want to thank all the people for supporting me. It was a difficult situation for me and I am glad I made Pakistan win. It was a difficult pitch to bat on. But I was positive. Misbah was with me. I just told him to stay and I will play my shots and it worked. The bowlers did well. I had a dream run with the ball, it was spinning sharply and I kept it simple and it worked for me.’

“Who writes your scripts?” England’s legendary allrounder Ian Botham was asked after taking a wicket first ball on his Test comeback in 1986. The same question can be asked of another flamboyant cricketer today as Shahid Afridi turned in one of the great all-round ODI performances to flatten West Indies in his comeback game.

With Pakistan axing a whole host of experienced players in recent months – including Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal – there had been murmurs over whether Afridi’s ODI career should have been given yet another lifeline. He’s someone who sees himself as a bowling allrounder in recent years, and with no wickets in seven previous ODIs, the doubts were justified. Afridi squashed them, and how – a game-transforming half-century and then the second best one-day bowling figures of all time.

Before he walked in to bat on a drizzly morning in Providence, Pakistan’s top order had keeled over once again against the moving ball as Jason Holder delivered a searing new-ball spell of 8-4-8-4. The manner of those dismissals would have been as demoralising for Pakistan’s fans as the scoreline, with two top-order batsmen being bowled when looking to leave the ball.

Misbah-ul-Haq was playing his usual hold-the-innings-together role scoring at about a run an over, when Afridi strode out, immediately looking to score a run a ball. Pakistan were 47 for 5 and the team’s last recognised batting pair was in the middle, but that didn’t prevent Afridi from launching his third delivery for six over long-off. Given his kamikaze style of play, a quick end to his innings wouldn’t have surprised. It almost did after he belted another six and a four, but Chris Gayle put down a tough chance at slip.

After that, he could take lesser risks despite scoring rapidly as West Indies’ bowlers offered several boundary balls. Marlon Samuels offered long hops and full tosses that were dispatched beyond the rope, Darren Sammy was cleverly dinked over the shoulder before his half-volley was pounded through extra cover to bring up the half-century off 35 deliveries. The man who was expected to be the biggest threat, Sunil Narine, was caned out of the attack, taken for 32 in three overs.

On a track where the rest of the Pakistan team combined to score 120 off 245, Afridi plundered 76 off 55, showing the insouciance and big-hitting that make him such a fan favourite. Misbah added to his ever-expanding collection of ODI half-centuries as well, on a track which he called one of the toughest he has come across, and his partnership with Afridi underlined how two vastly different styles of batting can both be crucial to the team’s cause. Their efforts drove Pakistan to 224, which seemed like a challenging target for West Indies.

Twenty minutes into the chase, that seemed a far larger score as West Indies were reduced to 7 for 3, the second lowest score for which they have lost three wickets in ODIs. It began with Mohammad Irfan’s swinging 146kph low full toss that resulted in a golden duck for Johnson Charles in the first over. The pace and bounce of Irfan disconcerted the batsmen, with Darren Bravo the next to go, caught down the leg side.

The biggest breakthrough though came through a direct hit from Misbah at cover, catching Chris Gayle well short while attempting a single that should have been attempted only by a much quicker runner. Pakistan knew well the importance of that wicket – Misbah was midway through celebrating the dismissal when he was swamped by his joyous team-mates.

Marlon Samuels and Lendl Simmons then cut out all risk, and played ultra-cautious cricket against some top bowling from Pakistan. “Huge pressure is there, huge pressure,” wicketkeeper Umar Akmal frequently reminded the batsmen. The biggest strength in the Pakistan line-up is the quality they have across their bowling, with no real weak links.