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Starman Shaheen Shah Afridi’s night out in Dubai

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Anatomy of a stellar show as India fail to recover from quick’s Powerplay onslaught

First ball to Rohit Sharma. Shaheen Shah Afridi runs in from over the wicket with the Pakistan fans jiving, grooving and chanting: “Shaheen! Shaheen! Shaheen!” in Dubai. A group of fans have even travelled all the way from Japan in the midst of a pandemic to witness something special from Pakistan.
Afridi nails an inswinging yorker – not of the banana-swing variety but one with just enough (and late) shape – which torpedoes into the back leg of Rohit. Bang: this is smashing into the middle of middle stump. Afridi knows it. . Rohit knows it , but still can’t keep it out.

Afridi spins around and wheels away in celebration even before umpire Chris Gaffaney raises his finger. He keeps sprinting towards square leg and pulls off the ‘starman pose’, a tribute to the other Afridi but also one now becoming his own. Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan lean on Afridi’s shoulders and soak everything in. Afridi makes it super special for every Pakistan fan.

It gets super-duper special when Afridi storms through KL Rahul’s defences in his next over. Rahul plays for the angle but it viciously bends in against the angle once again, making the other opener look clueless as well. ‘Starman’ Shaheen zips away towards square leg once again and blows kisses to the crowd.

India are 6 for 2 in the third over. The Dubai international stadium raises itself to a massive roar when Virat Kohli gets ready to face Afridi. They’ve never faced each other in T20 cricket before. It’s pure theatre. The first ball to Kohli is (of course) an inswinger, which is jabbed to the leg side via an inside edge. Afridi is setting up Kohli for one inswinger after another. Kohli tries to counter it by standing outside the crease and occasionally flitting around it.

Kohli backs away outside leg to manufacture swinging room and hit over the top. He doesn’t usually take risks in the early exchanges in any format, but Afridi forces him to do something different. The ball doesn’t swing. Instead it slides onto the bat as Kohli opens up his hips and shovel-swats Afridi with the bottom wrist over over mid-on and into the Pakistan dugout – like only he can. He undoes his gloves. Puts them back on. Tucks his bat around his legs. The Indian fans find their voice, but it is Afridi who owns the Powerplay, pinning down India to 36 for 3, with Hasan Ali claiming the wicket of Suryakumar Yadav. Pakistan will go on to score 43 for 0 in their Powerplay, ultimately chasing down 152 with all ten wickets to spare.

Afridi isn’t done yet. After taking 2 for 19 in three overs, he returns at the death to best Kohli. With the old ball, he thumps a slower offcutter into the pitch towards Kohli’s right shoulder. The India captain is too early into the pull, flapping a top-edge behind to Mohammad Rizwan for 57 off 49 balls. Afridi bags three big Indian wickets on a big night, providing a throwback to Mohammad Amir’s takedown of India’s top three in the Champions Trophy final more than four years ago at The Oval.

Afridi loses his length and his head briefly off his last two balls – a full-toss off a front-foot no-ball that Hardik Pandya carves for four followed by a wild overthrow that rolls away to the boundary. No matter – this still ends up the starman’s night. It culminated in Pakistan winning their first game against India in World Cups at their 13th attempt.

After the result, Kohi delivered a glowing endorsement of Afridi’s skills, saying India just couldn’t recover from the damage the left-arm quick had inflicted in the Powerplay. According to ESPNcricinfo’s Smart Stats, which adds context to every performance, Afridi’s three wickets were actually worth 4.67 wickets.

“He did bowl really well with the new ball,” Kohli said. “I think he hit the right areas to pick up wickets. In T20 cricket, you need good execution to pick up wickets with the new ball and certainly he did that.

“Credit to him, he put our batsmen under pressure immediately with the new ball. He ran in with intensity and showed that he’s bowling in consistent areas. As batsmen you are forced to be a bit watchful and that spell kind of put us on the back foot immediately and from thereon to get those 20-25 runs towards the end seemed pretty difficult when you lose three wickets for 20 [31] runs.”

The night ended with more revelry for Pakistanis with fans chasing the team bus chanting “Shaheen! Shaheen! Shaheen!” and, of course, “Dil Dil Pakistan“.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo


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