Shahid Afridi has been around for a long time. I still remember when he first burst on the scene; the biggest debate he provoked at the time was whether or not he was, in fact, the youngest player ever to join an international cricket team (many Indians felt the Pakistanis simply found this guy just to spite Sachin Tendulkar, who previously held the record).
Now, obviously, Afridi is no Tendulkar. He’s not even a Virender Sehwag. There are players who occasionally trot out the cliche that they refuse to change their style of play (see: Yuvraj Singh in Tests; Kevin Pietersen in everything). But they’re never completely true — Sehwag, for instance, has also said he likes to play as he has always played, and to a certain extent, only Sehwag will try to reach a century or milestone by risking his wicket for a boundary. At the same time, however, Sehwag knows when to relax; some of his best innings feature a certain caution and inhibition. (That’s why he averages over 50 and Afridi only 36).
Afridi, alas, never modified his game. It’s the strangest thing — he simply goes out to bat and thinks every innings should come close to beating that record he set for the fastest century in ODI cricket. I don’t understand it, because the guy isn’t stupid. In fact, as a bowler, he has shown remarkable maturity and guile (to such an extent, I would argue, that he’s much more valuable for his 278 ODI wickets than his 24 batting average).
The tragedy of Afridi’s short reign is that he was a good captain; certainly much better than Mohammad Yousuf (who, by contrast, is an amazing batsman, probably the best Pakistani one this decade). His captaincy raises difficult questions: does playing talent make you a better manager of people? (Is it possible, in other words, to have brilliant captains who contribute nothing with bat and ball? And if so, are they worth their spot in the team?) Why can some players adapt to different conditions, but not to varying formats?