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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

2019 Cricket World Cup: Too much being made out of my age - Shahid Afridi

Shahid Afridi’s autobiography, Gamechanger, co-written with journalist Wajahat S Khan, also reflects his uninhibited approach to the game. Here, Afridi discusses issues he touched on in the book.

cricket Updated: May 30, 2019 16:32 IST
Khurram Habib
Khurram Habib
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi speaks during a press conference to present his autobiography in Karachi on May 4, 2019.
Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi speaks during a press conference to present his autobiography in Karachi on May 4, 2019.(AFP)

He burst on the international scene with a 37-ball ODI century. From there, Shahid Afridi’s career was one breathless run. He made power-hitting the norm long before it became a T20 speciality. The retired Pakistan star’s autobiography, Gamechanger, co-written with journalist Wajahat S Khan, also reflects his uninhibited approach to the game. Here, Afridi discusses issues he touched on in the book. Excerpts:

You say you excelled when allowed to play your way and disliked blackboard coaches. Should youngsters follow you?

Coaching is always done at U-14, U-16, U-19, or maybe even at ‘A’ level, where you are learning. When it comes to international level, the demand of the national team is performance. There is no need for coaching there. In the national team, you need people around a player who can motivate him, appreciate him. They should be able to motivate him when it is a difficult time for him. But yeah, coaching is important and there is an age for it. And I feel every player need not necessarily feel the way I did (when I was young).

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There is controversy over your age, but you’ve blamed officials. You were probably aware through your career that you were seen as a 16-year-old debutant. Why didn’t you speak up earlier?

I don’t think my age is such a big issue. When I played U-19 for Pakistan, I was U-19 only; it wasn’t like I was overage while playing (at that level). See, when I started playing I was young. I was born in a village in a remote area where there was no hospital, no (process to register) date of birth, and no birthdays would be celebrated. When we shifted to Karachi, we had grown up a bit but we never had birth certificates. I went to U-14 trials, and there was a selection committee and they were asking everyone’s age. I didn’t know mine. I only knew the day (of the week) and month roughly, so I asked someone and he told me ‘if you want to play U-14, you should mention this age’. We were kids, we didn’t know anything. So that age got registered and kept continuing. I didn’t give it much importance because I had to play cricket. I didn’t know it’ll become an issue. In a way, it wasn’t an issue because when I played U-19, I was actually U-19. And when I created the batting world record, I was 19.

In your book, you say you were primarily a leg-spinner. Did you discuss it with the management?

The management knew I’d come into the team as a bowler in place of Mushtaq Ahmed. Everyone knew it and it is not important to tell everything specifically to the management. They knew it, but they also knew the world record I made was in batting and people, the public, fans—their expectations were from my batting. The management thought if I had the skill to bat, why not let me get quick runs.

Do you feel focus on bowling alone would have been better and the all-rounder conundrum hurt your career?

Yes, I could have become a bowler only, but I had a desire from the beginning to be an all-rounder. I had the batting bug in me so I wanted to continue that but many captains didn’t use me as a proper bowling option; (they’d use me for) only 2-3 overs. Then my focus went to batting, but I always wanted to be a good all-rounder.

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You have written in depth about the 2010 spot-fixing saga, but little on the 2000 fixing row and the Justice Qayyum report on it. You say you were upset with the stars, but there little about how you dealt with the accused seniors?

I didn’t mention much about it because I didn’t know much about the 2000 report you are talking about. Whatever I heard about it from the team management or media back then was just normal talk or allegations. We couldn’t even imagine there was fixing going on. The second one (2010) happened in front of me and under my captaincy, and I knew about it. My relationship with those players (Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir) isn’t great or special. We may end up meeting on some occasion, somewhere. But yes, I quite often bump into Amir.

You say Pakistani coaches didn’t understand you, and only Bob Woolmer did. There is a trend of foreign coaches in the subcontinent being successful. What makes them different? Ravi Shastri though has done well.

Foreign coaches don’t get involved in politics. They are given a job and do it with honesty. They don’t have any angle. They have a feeling whatever talented players they have, they should use them, and would back your skills. Woolmer had that. Our coaches would always force you to play the way they used to. Shastri, well, if he has turned out good, he must be good. But in Pakistan, overseas coaches have been suitable.

You have touched on retirements and said Tendulkar, who you call a man of class, could have retired after the 2011 World Cup win. Do you feel commercial reasons influence retirements in the subcontinent? You too returned from retirements a few times.

I didn’t play as much cricket as Tendulkar has. He had his own thinking, I have my own views. It is not necessary that he should listen or agree with me. Sachin had his plans, he understood himself, his fitness. He wanted to play after that too. For me, I have had comebacks. Once I decided to retire, Ijaz Butt (then PCB chairman) supported me and recalled me into the Test team. Cricket was our passion. We played cricket because we loved it. There could be a bit of commercial angle or obligation, but not much.

Pakistan is struggling to produce superstars, same with hockey. Have people become less passionate about sport?

Of course we are producing superstars. Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Shadab Khan, Hassan, what do you think they are? They are cricket heroes and are rising. There are more on their way up.

You say India had the best batting line-up during your days and is the most balanced. Do you feel not playing against India regularly has hurt Pakistan cricket?

It is not like there has been some kind of loss or damage, but whenever the relationship between India and Pakistan has improved, it has been through sports only. I have always believed cricket is the only thing that can improve relationship---Pakistan touring India and India touring Pakistan. People should meet each other. Crowds should meet, visas should be made easy so that people can sit with each other.

When they sit together in the crowd a lot of discussions on many issues will take place, ways will open, and there can be financial benefits. That is why the relationship should improve.

You say your relationship with Javed Miandad was prickly. Was he that hard to get along?

Experience with Javed bhai hasn’t been that great. He was my elder, I respected him. But overall, whenever we’ve stayed together, the experience hasn’t been good.

Do you think the 2009 Lahore terror attack has irreparably damaged Pakistan cricket?

I don’t agree totally because it doesn’t mean if some Indian player is not coming, top players aren’t coming; or the others visiting aren’t good enough. The World XI had also come, Windies had come. In future, I am sure top teams will visit.

You say Pakistan cricket lacks self-confidence at the moment. Is it because authorities are underselling cricket? You mentioned marketing rights. Also, how tough it is to market if there is no cricket at home?

For any organisation to do well, there needs to be professionalism. We have professional people, but there should be people related to marketing. Also, because there is lesser cricket in Pakistan, there has been no or little marketing. Professional set ups (in the board) and international cricket is necessary to market it.

You’ve been effusive in praise of Virat Kohli. In your World XI, you have picked him at No. 3 ahead of guys like Ricky Ponting?

He is down to earth and is a beautiful and stylish batsman.

You’ve said Pakistan have been a good Test and T20 team, but have struggled in ODIs because they can’t pace themselves, switch on and switch off. Keeping that in mind, how do you rate Pakistan’s chances at the World Cup?

Pakistan have struggled because they haven’t been playing enough one-day cricket at domestic level. They play T20 and Tests much better. But the good thing about the combination we have now in bowling and batting is that the batsmen are in form and the bowling combination has also become good. They have experience also, so I am expecting Pakistan to do well at the World Cup.

You have praised BCCI for taking care of the grassroots, which PCB has not done. How should PCB go about it?

At least now, PCB is looking to do something at the grassroots level. More and more international cricketers that we’ve had like Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik, Mohammed Hafeez, Shoaib Akhtar, Abdur Razzaq and Mohammad Yousuf, these people should get involved. Academies at the grassroots level should be built where these stars can work with the kids.

You are critical of players taking to social media to explain political viewpoints.

Excess of anything is harmful. You should use it only so much that you can withstand pressure when the situation becomes difficult.

Do you see yourself in politics? If so, which party?

I have not taken any decision. When I think about it, I will see which party I must go into. At the moment my foundation is everything.