Yesterday evening in Colombo, it looked as if another minnow might shame the ICC. Canada seemed to be inching towards victory—working hard, sweating and winning little battles against the Pakistanis.
They were a comfortable 104 for 3 and the equation was in their favour—even if it was only a wafer-thin advantage that they held. A commentator remarked: "The Pakistanis seem to be going with the flow, they don't look like they have any clue about how to stop the Canadians."
The two batsmen at the crease, Surkari and Hansra, were growing in confidence—preparing themselves, as it were, for an assault. That is, until fate intervened in the form of Saeed Ajmal via Shahid Afridi.
Ajmal appeared to want a review—so he spoke with Afridi, and Afridi, like an indulgent older brother, told Ajmal in Urdu: "Theek hai, le lete hain," (fine, let's take it) and signaled to the umpire for a review.
Decision reversed, Afridi took charge. Four wickets followed in a blink-and-you-miss fashion—the next six falling in a matter of 34 runs. The unpredictable Pakistanis had won again, weakening the minnows' case that seemed so strong after Kevin O'Brien's assault on the English.
This world cup has seen a new Afridi—Afridi the bowler. He's taken 14 wickets in three matches.
Imran Khan, the bowling all rounder, had done more with the bat in the 1992 world cup that the Pakistanis won. Afridi, the "boom boom" batter, seems to be focusing more on his bowling here in 2011.
What's more, he's doing it in a manner that's very elder statesman-like, very Imran-like. He allows others to bowl, and only when nothing seems to be working, comes on for a demolition act. His team mates are rallying around him the way they did with Imran. If 1992 was Imran's cup, this could well be Afridi's.
All that—and he is yet to showcase his batting abilities.
On the postmatch show on Star Cricket, Pat Symcox played down his success as a bowler. He said that these are early days; teams and batsmen will work him out by the time they get to the business end of the tournament.
However, I am not as sure as Symcox. This street smart man seems to be determined to make this cup his own—and he has a team that's backing him all the way, including senior pros like Younis Khan.
If the other contenders for the cup take him lightly, they shall do so at their own peril. This man can and will come up with new tricks.
Yes, it's most likely that Shahid Afridi's Pakistan will win a world cup, once again.