by Mohammad Ashraf Khwaja 7 June 2019
This book captures the journey of Shahid Afridi’s exceptional rise, his overnight and controversial fame, his weaknesses, strengths, team politics, tragedies, and most significant moments on the field, his future ambitions, political or otherwise and more importantly his shocking revelations which altogether had exposed various things on the ground. Told like a memoir, this is a modern, personalized history where his favorite tale begins with the cricket world’s most famous batting debut when, at age nineteen (1996) he scored a 37-ball century, the fastest the world had ever witnessed, against then world champions Sri Lanka. Coincidentally, the night before that historic match he recapitulates a dream where he was hitting the big shots against the same team, and to everyone’s surprise, Afridi made that debut century with Sachin Tendulkar’s bat. This memoir thus unravels many sides of Afridi for the reader and his fans. Divided into thirty-eight sections/chapters, this book sets the record straight on many of the controversies surrounding his cricketing career. It talks about never-before-heard stories of Afridi’s professional and personal life.
Afridi had touched many sensitive and insensitive areas in his book. It goes all around calling Javed Miandad a greatest batsman but equally a small man who had a proximity complex, Waqar Younis a below average captain and a mediocre coach, Ijaz Butt, a flawed chairman, Shoaib Malik, kaan ka kacha, who was prone of taking bad advice from bad people and who believed everything he hears out, Aamer Sohail, a brave player but jealous and fame lover, Salman Butt, an educated criminal and a typical liar who insulted the team, the game and the country. Afridi had come hard upon Gautam Gambhir whom he calls ‘saryal’ (burnt up), attitudinal, who had no personality and who behaves like he’s a cross between Don Bradman and James Bond. About Shoaib Akhtar, Afridi writes that he was ferocious, furious and terror of any batting line-up but at the same time he was always in the middle of a reputation crisis which once in Centurion lounge broke down the bathroom door and showed his anger at Mohammad Asif over a simple joke.
Besides, Afridi recounts that all the seniors (except a few) were feeling insecure of him, his batting style, etc. like he was somewhat threat for them or their fame. He goes on to say that he had joined the national team as a bowler, but he was never appropriately developed by the coaches and captains and didn’t exploit his talent to the fullest. He was bitterly misused and confused continuously due to which he lost himself to double-minded muddle, and he kept tolerating the wrong treatment from many other coaches only because what he blatantly admits that he respected their position, not them. About his infamous ball tempering incident, he brusquely admits that in cricket everybody tampers with the ball but what he did was bit different, and he showed it to the world without really trying to conceal anything. However, he is very much apologetic for doing that.
Afridi had vividly narrated some of the shocking, weird and humorous incidents of his life including when in 1995 his motorbike was robbed in Karachi at gunpoint in broad daylight. Second when some fan-girls who traveled from villages outside Peshawar to Karachi in search of him and some turned up dressed as self-styled brides at his residence and insisted Afridi for marrying them. Third when a sixteen-year boy (having a very versatile voice) masqueraded himself a girl and befooled Afridi for months together on the phone to which Afridi admits that he was embarrassed when he found him holding a bouquet of roses at his door on Eid day. Interestingly Afridi later deployed the boy for the same trick with his friends and surprisingly the boy even convinced one of his friend (a famous bowler whom Afridi let anonymous) over the phone to marry him. Fourth, when a Melbourne girl followed and insisted Afridi relentlessly to accompany her. The book reveals that Afridi got plenty of attention (after his debut century) from all quarters, especially women but he was interested only in helping his family.
He calls Imran Khan his hero and inspiration, and Wasim Akram, his mentor. Moin Khan, Saeed Anwar and Inzamam-ul-Haq are unforgettable for Afridi. Sachin Tendulkar is a world-class legend, but Virat Kohli is more beautiful than Sachin while batting on the field, he asserts. The only few bowlers who have bothered him chronically and who have caused him discomfort and anxiety are Glenn McGrath, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.
The fascinating part of the book is that it throughout discloses something novel, surprising or controversial. From players to politicians, from coaches to umpires and from PCB to team management, Afridi had spared few and criticized many. The only coach whom he admires all over is Bob Wolmer. He calls umpire Darrel Hair a hateful racist who proved a thief when he was caught stealing cash from a liquor store in Australia. He had reprimanded PCB literally by arguing that it doesn’t have any confidence, nor does it have a plan where no qualified man or woman could stand up to or debate or assert confidently with the highest levels of the ICC.
He comments that Narender Modi is cut from a different cloth and until he is around there are no chances of peace in Pakistan, contrary to what Imran Khan in April said that Modi’s again coming to power may bring calmness to Indo-Pak relations. Afridi proclaims that India is unmatched when it comes to love and respect for cricketers, but its media plays dirty, exaggerates, lies and builds hype by quoting things out of context.
Since Afridi doesn’t like an army to meddle into politics but he gives a room to his point by describing that once there is a vacuum created by the Democrats does the military step in, which is natural. He satirizes it that even the great Inzamam ul Haq rumbled into the bowl a few overs in matches where the bowlers were not doing their job. He had received offers from all the three major political parties of Pakistan to join, one for PPP from Bilawal Bhutto, second for PML [N] from Nawaz Sharif and the third one for PTI from Imran Khan. Though Afridi is quite a severe fan of politics, he outrightly exhibits that he doesn’t see any right party that he can join at the moment. He even hints of forming his party.
In the final section of his book, he suggests that Imran Khan must do more about Kashmir in its resolution process. ‘Kashmir belongs to the Kashmiris. Not to Indians. Not to Pakistanis. We have to save the Kashmiri people, and we must involve them in the peace process. Nobody in the Indian subcontinent has suffered or struggled more than Kashmiris.’
Game Changer is a good read, and every other page has some striking or blunt reflection, which for sure will astonish many readers. It takes a lot for someone to admit about his fallacies, and Shahid has done it palpably by revealing some bold confessions daringly. However, the book lacks sequence and at some points runs short of coherence. Moreover, it had some grave statistical errors, including when Afridi calls Muzaffarabad the most militarized region in the world. To understand the better context of everything or what he had expressed is to go through the book in one go.