As former Pakistani cricketing superstar Shahid Afridi made his way into a special ‘Meet and Greet’ session organised by the Bahrain Cricket Federation (BCF) in Manama yesterday, a wave of elation coursed through an eager assemblage which had been impatiently awaiting his arrival.
Members of the Bahrain men’s team, the women’s team, the under-19 and under-15 teams perked up; mobile phones were readied and photographers clicked away, the sound of the shutters synchronising with the clapping by the youngest members of the crowd – some of them as young as nine.
Afridi, 42, played for Pakistan for 20 years, from his record-breaking entry into international cricket in 1996 until his last appearance for his country in 2016 at the ICC Men’s T20I World Cup held in India. He retired from international cricket in 2018, after captaining a World XI in a fund-raising game at Lord’s against the West Indies, although he continued to play for different franchises in the Pakistan Super League, a domestic T20 tournament, until this year’s edition.
He arrived in Bahrain on Tuesday night on a two-day fund-raising tour for his charity venture, the Shahid Afridi Foundation, which seeks to improve the lot of the under-privileged in Pakistan and elsewhere. The highly-lauded foundation has chapters in the US, the UK, South Africa and Australia, apart from its headquarters in Pakistan, withAfridi constantly travelling around the world on fund-raising initiatives.
At the Manama event, the Bahrain cricketers – men, women and teenagers alike – formed a semi-circle around the stage where Afridi sat with BCF president Hatim Dadabai, BCF advisory board chairman Mohammad Mansoor and others.
Mobile phones continued to record the occasion as Dadabai welcomed Afridi and thanked him for taking time out to meet with the national teams, noting that it was an occasion that would linger on forever in the memories of everyone present.
Once Afridi was given the floor, he stood up and motioned to everyone to come closer.
“Boys,” he said, looking at the under-19 and under-15 cricketers. “I want you to remember one thing: if you want to achieve anything in life, you have to commit to it totally. There are no shortcuts so, whether it’s your dream to play cricket for your country – or any other ambition – you can only realise your passion by dreaming big and acting on that dream by putting in as much hard work as you can.”
As Afridi, who set the cricketing world alight in just his second game for Pakistan in 1996 by scoring the fastest one-day international (ODI) century off just 37 balls against Sri Lanka in Nairobi, continued to speak, his audience was transfixed. The mobile phones continued to be brandished but everyone present, especially the teenagers who stood right in front of Afridi, had forgotten that they were recording the charismatic former Pakistan captain as he held forth.
Soon, a very special moment arrived.
“We would like to present you, Shahid, with a special memento on behalf of the BCF,” Dadabai said. “And we would like our Deepika Rasangika to be the one to present it. Deepika holds the world record for the highest individual score in women’s T20Is, which she set just last week when she scored 161 not out against Saudi Arabia in Oman.”
The audience clapped loudly, the young boys among them most enthusiastically, because they knew they were witnessing a historic moment as record-setter Rasangika posed for a picture with Afridi, whose record was broken by New Zealand’s Corey Anderson in 2014, after handing him a specially-engraved plaque.
A young boy of about ten held up his hand, then, to ask a question.
“What advice would you give me if I wanted to learn to play strokes like you?” the boy asked, referring to the Pakistani all-rounder’s big-hitting exploits which earned him the nickname ‘Boom Boom’.
“I would say ‘Don’t try to emulate me’,” Afridi laughed, probably referencing some of the criticism he copped over the course of his career, especially when his slam-bang style of batting didn’t come off. “There wasn’t a particular method to the way I played. If I saw a ball that needed to be hit, I tried to hit it. But you’d be better off trying to bat like other players who were much better than me.”
A fine leg-spinner, to go along with his crowd-rousing batting, whose bowling won Pakistan many matches, Afridi stressed, again, the need for commitment, focus and discipline as he addressed the teenagers in front of him.
“Always remember: hard work never goes unrewarded,” he said. “Sometimes, things don’t work out in the field one wants to succeed in but it doesn’t matter because your hard work gets rewarded in another line. You just have to think big, dream big and strive to make that dream come true. Sooner or later, you will succeed.”
It was time for group photographs and Afridi, who had several appointments to follow in his busy schedule in the kingdom, graciously posed with all the different Bahrain teams.
As he was leaving, someone from the audience asked the members of the women’s team which of them was the biggest Shahid Afridi fan.
“All of us!” they answered in unison.