Last week Shahid Afridi attended a ceremony to mark the start of construction on a stadium in his honour. There stood the Pakistan all-rounder in Khyber Agency, gazing on earnestly as the velvet curtains went back to reveal the first brick in this concrete testament to his achievements. It was actually quite odd to see the livewire legend, who often builds his innings the way a baby hippo might build a house of cards, for once looking so serious about laying foundations.
Anyway, the upshot is that fans, already accustomed to seeing a cricket ball in the jaws of Shahid Afridi, will now be able to watch cricket in the jaws of the Shahid Afridi Stadium. A perfectly fitting tribute to one of Pakistan’s favourite, if controversial, sporting superstars then? Well, perhaps, but the builders should just hang on for a moment. It might sound like a good idea on paper, but in practice, stadiums named after people do not always end happily ever after, either for those they honour or those who have to play there. A few cases in point:
Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore
It might be a bit of a mystery to some people why Pakistan has a cricket ground named after one of the world’s most brutal dictators, akin to England playing at the Castro Oval or Australia renaming the MCG,the Assad Arena. There is a historical and political logic of sorts, though. The venue is so called because the former Libyan leader gave a speech there in 1974 advocating Pakistan’s right to hold nuclear weapons. While the world can be grateful those particular boom booms have never been used, the Libyan dictator himself was, of course, not so fortunate. His bloody and tyrannical reign came to a bloody end for him personally in 2011 after the Arab Spring uprising.
No one, of course, could suggest Afridi is a flamboyant egomaniac whose selfishness has ever brought misery to millions so to honour him in the same way as Gaddafi seems rather unfair. Actually, though, at the time of the despot’s death there were even demands for the venue to be called something else, with the names of both Imran Khan and much-loved former national coach, Bob Woolmer, touted as possibly replacements. As of yet, though, it remains the Gaddafi Stadium, one of cricket’s odder shrines and a peculiar precedent for honorary grounds in Pakistan.
M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru
M Chinnaswamy, the noted Karnataka cricket administrator and former BCCI president, apparently objected to being commemorated in such a public manner. It’s perhaps hard to imagine Afridi making similar protestations of modesty, but the point is, Pakistan fans should hope their team has better luck when they play at his new stadium than India have had at the Chinnaswamy. There the home side have only won six times in 21 Tests, with some of the team’s most galling moments coming in this corner of Bengaluru: The very first Test played there was a crushing 267 run loss to the West indies; in 1987 Pakistan sealed a 16-run win to take the series; in 2000, a 2-0 series defeat by South Africa was endured within the Chinnaswamy’s walls, a match which also proved to be Sachin’s last in any format as captain of his country. What a tragic irony it would be if Misbah eventually finished his career – presumably sometime in 2024 – with a sorry defeat at the Shahid Afridi Stadium.
Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua
Topping the farce of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean should really have been impossible, but in February 2009, the West Indies managed it. Played at a stadium built in honour of one of the most graceful sportsmen ever, the second Test against England had to be abandoned after less than a dozen balls in one of cricket’s most graceless episodes ever. Built with Chinese cash, the venue was meant to give its backers a foothold in the competitive market for hosting international cricket after its initial use during that 2007 tournament.
Sadly it was footholds, or lack of, which proved to be its undoing. The West Indies opening quicks were hardly able to stand up as they ran in to bowl on an outfield that had become so sandy and dangerous, you half expected to find Private Ryan saving the single at cover. The match was soon called off leaving travelling spectators out of pocket and Sir Viv himself out of apologies. Afridi has stopped many a bowler in his tracks. Hopefully the grass at his new ground will not.
Stanford Cricket Ground, Antigua
As convicted conman Allen Stanford sits serving a 110-year sentence in a Florida jail, the stadium that still bears his name has also slid unloved into oblivion. Another venue on the possibly cursed Antigua, this hubristic, floodlit white elephant was the scene of the 2008 Stanford Super Series, which involved the ECB pimping out the England team to play in a tournament creepier than the average American child beauty pageant.
Not long after the debacle, when a bemused band of English players competed for - and failed to win - twenty million dollars, Stanford was charged with operating one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in history. Showing that redemption is not impossible, the man who secured this sham deal for the ECB, Giles Clarke, kept his job and there may now even be redemption of sorts for the stadium itself. Earlier this month the derelict ground - also aptly named the “Sticky Wicket” stadium - was reported to be under the new management of outgoing WICB CEO, Michael Muirhead. So actually, ignore everything written above. If a stadium can suddenly come out of retirement unexpectedly, perhaps naming one after Afridi might not be a bad idea after all.