‘Boom Boom’ went bust even before the roar over his arrival had stopped resonating on the Eden terraces on Monday. Oh, the tragedy of cricket being a one-ball game!
After Umar Akmal fell, Eden roared. Not because Sri Lankan bowler Thisara Perrera was that good, but because the man walking in was Shahid Afridi. This was something it would have done for Sachin Tendulkar, and still does for Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni or any Kolkata Knight Rider. It is something Eden does for one of its own.
Pakistan, that day, seemed like a local team.
Afridi came and went with the same briskness of purpose that has been his trademark over nearly two decades spent playing international cricket. The first ball he faced was a wide. The next was again aimed wide off the wicket, but ‘Boom Boom’ slashed it and got caught at the extra-cover boundary. With the ball his figures were 4-0-40-0. To say that it wasn’t a good day in office would be understating the obvious. Monday blues, maybe.
He did take a catch, running in to dismiss Lahiru Thirimane on an afternoon of cricket practice; Pakistan’s only such game going into the World T20 main round against Bangladesh on Wednesday. But Afridi is now much more than the numbers he logs on a cricket field. At least that’s what it was at Eden, where a few thousands fetched up.
Even though it was a practice game, the fact that Pakistan were playing in India after over three years was reason enough for the press box to be full. You just knew the Pakistani team was in the area when you stepped out of the Metro station at Esplanade in city centre and walked towards cricket’s dream theatre.
The area from Esplanade to Eden was wrapped in a security blanket on a midsummer morning. On Sunday morning, when Pakistan reported for training, there were policemen just outside the boundary line.
Afridi may have been panned at home for what he said at his first media conference here, but Eden walked the talk. Just like it did for Asif Iqbal, who played his farewell Test here at the venue – which turned 150 in 2014. Just like it always did for Rashid Latif, whose has family here.
Yes, there have also been moments such as the infamous run-out of Sachin Tendulkar, but that was the stray exception to the rule. When Shoab Akhtar sent the stumps of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar flying in successive deliveries, you could have heard the sound of silence at Eden before it broke into respectful applause. Ditto when Salim Malik pummelled India into submission – 72 off 36 balls was as unheard of in 1987 as Google or gmail – after Krishnamachari Srikkant made a superb century.
Afridi didn’t turn up for training on Tuesday, reportedly due to a bout of fever. “We will see how he is once we return from training,” said Pakistan coach Waqar Younis.
When he was asked about Afridi’s ordinary run of form, Younis said: “Form jaati bhi hai aaur aati bhi hai ek minute mein. (Form returns as quickly as it goes). Afridi is one innings away from hitting form.”
Should that happen on Wednesday, Eden will again show how much they care for him and his team. Not often is the stadium as neutral a venue as it will be on Wednesday.
But then, even amid the love for Pakistan here, there is one player that Eden does call its own between April and May every year. It will be interesting to see which side the crowd is on when Shakib Al-Hassan and Afridi face off on the arena.