Ooh Lala, ooh Lala. You are a T20 fantasy.
There is a reason Pakistanis love and despise Shahid Afridi: He always promises much more than he is capable of achieving.
Often he walks in, bat hanging in the left hand, chest thrust out, chin raised, with the intent of destroying the opposition, to the silent chorus of a Bappi Lahiri song written for an item girl, inspired perhaps by the pet name of our poster boy, inciting in the process the Pakistani fantasy of a rare win.
What follows is standard Afridi script. A shimmy down the pitch, a hoick down the ground, a six --leading to feverish fantasy of a win among fans who are now derisively called 'Afridiots' for not losing faith in him despite being let down regularly; then a swing, a miss and the inevitable moment when Afridi walks back to the pavilion.
All of this lasting fewer minutes than the number of alphabets in his full name. It is a pity Maggi never thought of having Sahibzada Mohammad Shahid Khan Afridi as their brand ambassador. Bas, do minute would have served them both as a catchphrase.
And, so it was on Friday at Mohali, when Pakistan needed to win against Australia to stay in the World T20 and fulfill Afridi's dream of retiring with a World Cup in hand.
With his team needing more than 10 runs an over to chase down 194, Afridi strutted in. The stadium erupted with excitement and a loud roar, rivalled these days only by the appearance of Sunny Leone on the screen, signalling that it was time for Boom, Boom.
Afridi took guard, danced down the pitch, backed off towards square leg, struck a few lusty blows, and at the very moment Pakistan's expectations seemed headed to the moon, Lala stepped out of the crease, as a Pakistani commentator once famously said, with the intention to conquer the world, only to realise on turning back that he had lost everything. Stumped a kilometre — on cricketing scale — outside.
You could see this coming from almost half-a-decade away.
"His batting is so bad that it is embarrassing to watch him bat these days. He can't think, he can't judge the length, he is just a swiper of the ball, he bats like a tail-ender, and a bad one at that," Geoff Boycott told Cricinfo, chronicling Afridi's decline. This was in 2012.
At Mohali, Afridi did not disappoint Boycott, playing like a tailender who could have benefitted from a quick session with batting coach Ashish Nehra.
This begs the question that everyone in Pakistan should have asked years ago: What is Lala doing in the T20 team? True, it's his bowling skills that are expected to come good more than his flourish with a bat. But is that enough to carry on with him? Should the Pakistan Cricket Board not have accepted with glee one of Afridi's numerous decisions to retire, organised a hasty farewell and, to ensure he doesn't change his mind, appointed him a bowling coach of one of the junior teams? But the Board allowed him to unretire, only to see him turn into a liability, a walking embodiment of the adage that some heroes live long enough to watch their legacy turn into a joke.
Sub-continent cricketers are infamous for overstaying their welcome. Only a rare few, like Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid and Imran Khan, have the foresight and courage to walk out with their honour intact. Rest keep destroying it match by greedy match.
The legendary Kapil Dev, for instance, hung on for a few extra games just to break Richard Hadlee's record of Test wickets. In the end, to ensure he gets there and then goes out, Javagal Srinath had to bowl way outside the off stump so that Kapil gobbles up the tailenders and Hadlee's record.
In my opinion, Javed Miandad and Sachin Tendulkar too carried on way past their prime. In the end, when they left, the tears that accompanied were more of relief of not dragging them by their coattails than the pain of seeing them go. No, not for them the gentlemanly thing of going out in a blaze of glory, like a Steve Waugh or even a Shane Watson.
Board officials, unable to find the courage to off the record/endorsement-hungry celebrity, allow them to linger on, blocking the path of younger players.
So, Afridi too is just another creation of the greed-and-hubris of sub-continent cricketer and the obsequious, timid officials who was allowed to play on to pursue his dream of leading his side to a World T20 title.
The problem with Pakistani cricketers is that each one of them competes with the legend of Imran Khan. All of them believe, nay, fantasise, that like Imran, they are destined to a moment of infinite glory and are entitled to go on till their tryst with destiny.
When he promoted himself up the batting order, like Imran did in the final of the 1992 World Cup, Afridi gave a glimpse of his ambition of being a batsman who would bring glory to Pakistan. But, unlike Afridi who became more a hanger on, even in the twilight of his career Imran Khan could have walked into any side just on basis of his batting or bowling, not to forget his inspirational captaincy.
Lala wasn't a great leader, a captain without whom the ship would have sunk, either. At the end of his career, Afridi, if the murmurs from the dugout are to be believed, had joined the elite group of Pakistani captains who live by the pre-Independence credo of divide and rule.
In their heyday, his predecessors Waqar and Wasim gave a new meaning to WWII, not talking to each other even in a world cup, communicating through Inzamam ul Haq. Afridi appeared a step ahead, not being on talking terms with the likes of Umar Akmal, who had to communicate to him through Imran Khan where he would like to bat.
Now, Afridi has to go. Like British PM Neville Chamberlain did during WWII to the silent chants of ''you have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go."
Goodbye, Lala, unless he decides to unretire again. Which he may.
At the post-match conference, Afridi announced he will take a break and then decide what he needs to do, for the country.