Fifteen years ago, when you came on to the field with a bat in your hand, a handsome teenager for the girls to drool, a well build boy for the guys to expect some style, a confidence waiting to overflow from the tip of youth, I knew I had a new hero to admire.
When you started your career with a clean deposition over the cow corner, there started a new era of hard hitting, that no Ricardo Powell or Kris Shrikanth had seen. You made history that very day, didn't you? October 4th, 1996, Nairobi. A record that is placed well above the reach of any human, on the shelves of greatness.
You stand tall. You stand bold. You stand strong.
Geoff Boycott ridiculed your age, people ridiculed your consistency, haters ridiculed you just because they weren't good enough to be you.
You feared none, all could, but, fear you on the pitch.
I remember you taking a test away from India. I also remember you chasing down a mammoth Motera target. I remember you not for chasing it down, but for the courage you had in the game. Being hit by a short ball from Irfan Pathan, you cared not to feel shoulders, which for any other lesser mortal could've been a serious blow, but to you my dear Pathan, you gave him one snarled look and deposited the next delivery beyond the ropes.
You, are one of my cricketing darlings.
Your batting form dropped, but you were always the team man. Your bowling soon came on to the front and you led the spin attack in the hazy days past the Mushi-Saqi days. Ajmals and Rehmans come and go. Kaneria refrained from the white ball. But you held on to one end, day in night out.
Doe any other bowler have a better celebration than you on taking a wicket? NO. Standing firm, hands aloft, you bring the world to you. You are the magnet in the team, for most of the Pakistani fans. Oh dear o dear, I will miss that.
People expected you to just be a crash test driver, you came out to be a formula racer. You were better than what I wished for.
You brought in Aamer right into a world cup, backed him up like he was your brother. You gave him the love and space the kid needed to make it large under the world's eyes. You made him a match winner. You cautioned his caretakers to keep him safeguarded from evils like Mazhar Majeed when you left test cricket, but they never listened, and there went Aamer.
You led Pakistan in the world cup from the front. With the ball. You took the most wickets on cricket's biggest stage. You marshaled a side of tid-bits, a side of jigsaw clues that were strewn all over the floor. You brought them together, wrapped them into a tight unit and took them as far as you could.
The semi-final defeat was my saddest game in the world cup. But, you will always be a champ in my eyes.
You started your career with Rameez Raja, Waqar Younis, Jayasurya, Muralitharan, Dharmasena and the likes. Raza covered your games on the mic, Waqar became your coach, Sanath was the appreciator in the studios, Muralitharan ended his career before yours. You started your career with a six off Dharmasena, and ended it when Dharmasena became an umpire, even officiated your game(s) in the last world cup. Time may have changed, not you. You remained the same stylish big hitting cricketer with a beautiful leg-spin armory.
I wish you stayed with international cricket for longer. But I also wish you, as a human being, would live in peace. So, I guess you made the best decision and are now a free bird, free from the clumsy foul grips of the PCB.
May you have a good future in whatever you venture into. May God bless you like always.
If you, Sahibzada Mohammad Shahid Khan Afridi, happen to read this, please know that I love you from the deepest depth of my cricketing heart.
With a tear in my eye, for the first time in such a case since Dada's retirement, I admit, I will miss you.