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Afridi shows new zeal

The Pakistan skipper has lead by example and eyes another strong outing against New Zealand. Amol Karhadkar reports.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2011 00:53 IST
Amol Karhadkar

As the Pakistan team was practising at the picturesque Pallekele International Stadium on Monday, the eve of their Group A encounter against New Zealand, a cluster of honeybees swarmed from one end of the grass bank to the other, forcing the whole team to lie down flat on the grass.

But that was the only time over the last fortnight that the Men in Green had their heads down, literally.

Otherwise, riding high on the contribution of their captain, Pakistan have come out with flying colours in the first half of the league stages.

One is not sure if Shahid Afridi (or any of his team mates, for that matter) would have even heard of American Walt Whitman's famous poem 'O Captain! my Captain!' But the Pakistan skipper has clearly surpassed all the expectations from the poem.

Ever since he arrived in the Emerald isles, the burly Pathan has done nothing wrong.

Not only has he won all three tosses so far, he managed his troops to come out tops in all those three encounters, including the key contest against Sri Lanka.

The all-rounder who prefers "to be a bowler first and then a batsman" has so far made it three-in-three when it comes to bagging the man of the match award.

If critics point out that two of Afridi's match-winning spells have come against the associate member countries, his four-wicket haul against Sri Lanka, renowned to tackle slow bowling, have justified that his unorthodoxleg-spin can beat the best at any time.

Had it not been for Afridi's 14 wickets in the tournament so far, Pakistan would have found it very difficult to keep a clean slate going into the second half of the competition.

All along his 15-year-sojuorn in international cricket, Afridi's bowling skills have probably been overshadowed by his maverick batting.

But his stats, crossing the 300-wicket milestone during the victory against Sri Lanka, surely reflect his talent with the ball.

With his uncanny knack to vary speed at will, most of the batsmen have found it difficult to tackle him.

"Afridi is a difficult bowler to handle," Misbah-ul-Haq, Afridi's deputy and Pakistan's in-form batsman, said on Monday.

"He has variation, especially in these conditions, he is gripping the ball well and it's tough for batsmen to guess where the ball will go, how much it will drift. But other players are also required to play well and take pressure off the captain," he added.

If Afridi does make it four-in-four with a sterling performance against the Kiwis and ensures Pakistan's place in the quarterfinals, his team mates' feelings would be similar to a verse in the Whitman poem: 'O Captain my Captain! Our fearful trip is done.

The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won.