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BOOK REVIEW: Boom Boom Shahid Afridi

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Book Compiled & Edited by Asif Noorani

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / 01 May 2010

Cricketers, poor souls; they carry the weight of the world and the hopes of their nation. Legends in their fields, these celebrated few have a nationwide cult following. The sporting arena confers dual citizenship on the chosen. Time stands still when these demigods are in true form. The world ends when they are average mortals. These men walk a fine line between celebrity and infamy, crossing over at inopportune moments and tried by public opinion each time they do. That is where the pitchfork-wielding public comes in. Their passion for the game runs deep.

Shahid Afridi is Pakistan’s greatest asset. But he also suffers from a condition that makes him do funny things at the wrong moments. Afridi has provided fans with endless entertainment and a reason to live. He has also stomped on their hopes and snuffed out their dreams.

Boom Boom Shahid Afridi is being touted as the first book ever written about a sportsman, who, according to one writer, ranks amongst the most feared players in the international arena. An exceptional bowler, he may be, a force to reckon with, he certainly is, but while he puts the fear of God in his opponents, many have started to fear for him, especially after his latest stunt that involved some jaw-dropping antics where literal jaw dropping and an unfortunate chewed up cricket ball were involved. That and a failure to address his core weaknesses have prompted smitten fans to be cured of their infatuation.

Yet, it is difficult to completely sever ties with someone who hits rock bottom only to emerge with a rock solid performance under his belt. His fickle nature has been touched upon repeatedly; even the writer admits that “the only thing predictable about him is his unpredictability”. In fact, his failure to stick to the script is a cause for concern. His talent, however, has never been questioned.

Into this rarefied atmosphere, the player gets a brief reprieve in the form of a little book that expands upon the Afridi mythology. Asif Noorani, a self-confessed “armchair cricketer” and a veteran journalist has simply packed together interviews and published articles in a neat little bundle. Here, Afridi’s, dare we say, stellar career spanning 13 years has been condensed into 75 pages. So, while a legion of followers wait for a soul-searching piece based on their much-idolised cricketer’s hopes, dreams and unresolved issues, they can peruse a relatively lightweight exploration of his crowning achievements, with some spectacular failures served on the side.

The writer leads with an interview with Afridi and gives way to renowned cricket commentators like Kishore Bhimani, Zaheer Abbas and Chisty Mujahid, among others. Afridi’s mentors have also been brought on board to celebrate his undeniable genius and assess his volatile history. Asif Noorani has astutely selected articles that best represent the cricketer’s fiery career — from the accidental rise to fame of a rookie player who made ODI history to the calculated arrival at superstardom of a seasoned pro.

Saad Shafqat observes a man who has produced as many “detractors as devotees” and fuelled as much “fervour as fury” (page 45). Another critic points out that many cower and some shriek when “the great” shakes their hand and walks one through his metamorphosis from bowler to all rounder, senior statesman and inspiring leader. Wasim Akram, Afridi’s favourite captain, weighs in stating that he has a “bowler’s psyche and not a batsman’s mindset, making him reckless at batting”. That his unbroken record of scoring the fastest century in 37 balls still prevented him from getting a permanent place in the test team is lamented upon in ‘Afridi’s new avatar’, given that he was an early favourite. Saad Shafqat’s riveting analysis titled ‘Flamboyance personified’ is not to be missed.

According to the writer, the book was due to be out after World Cup twenty-twenty, June 2009, but now includes figures from the ICC Champions Trophy, making it an updated version designed to give fans their daily Afridi fix in a concentrated dose. Waseem Akram’s words leap out from the back cover stating that a book of this kind was long overdue. Boom Boom Shahid Afridi can be classified as ‘Afridi for beginners’ — more of a guide book through Afridiland with pretty pictures, dry facts and sharp observations, recommended for ages 6-60 and above. For those still smarting under some recent loss or ball tampering controversy, it is a reminder of just how great he can be, when he wants.

Meanwhile, disillusioned fans, struck by the unfairness of it all mutter darkly about the egregious waste of standby talent forced to watch from the wings while Afridi squanders opportunities. They believe that the player has yet to reach his full potential despite his “significant achievements”. At the moment, they are not feeling particularly charitable towards this man. They decry him as a pariah; he refuses to stay marooned on the isle of mortification. They reserve a place for him in the hall of fame; he fails to show. His is a classic tale of love, loss, redemption and some more loss. Out now.

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