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Cricket: Afridi makes final NZ appearance

Shahid Afridi during the International Twenty20 match between New Zealand and Pakistan at Seddon Park. Photo / Getty Images
Shahid Afridi during the International Twenty20 match between New Zealand and Pakistan at Seddon Park. Photo / Getty Images

Cricket uncovered something special when 16-year-old Sahibzada Mohammad Shahid Khan Afridi strode to the crease on October 4, 1996 at Nairobi and smeared a world record 37-ball century against Sri Lanka's one-day international attack.

That youthful Pakistani No.3 morphed into a leg-spinning all-rounder who wowed the world with his hitting capacity and a bowling arsenal to bamboozle the best.

Tonight could be his final appearance in New Zealand after 11 ODIs and five Twenty20 internationals stretching back 15 years.

He has the highest strike rate (140) for any batsman to play more than five ODI innings in New Zealand; and the highest strike rate (197) for anyone to play more than three T20I innings.

His T20I bowling strike rate, taking a wicket every 15 balls trumps a career figure of 22.

He excels once New Zealand is stamped in his passport.

"Maybe this will be my last tour," the 35-year-old conceded. "I've always trying to play a major role, striving to perform with both bat and ball."

His impulsive personality has sometimes got the better of him, like when he left a bite mark Jaws would be proud of in a ball during an ODI six years ago against Australia. He suffered a two-match ban.

Such foibles have tended to ricochet off his armour of prodigious talent.

For example, a big match temperament came to the fore with a man-of-the-matc performance in the final of the 2009 World T20 at Lord's.

Afridi took one for 20 from four overs before belting 54 from 40 balls against an attack
which included Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga in their pomp.

Now, as Pakistan captain, he has a chance to repeat the dose in March. Such an achievement would resonate, first, because the feat would be achieved in India, and second, because it would keep Pakistani desires burning that they might one day get to sample regular cricket at home.

Since the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka bus in 2009, Pakistan have played all their 'home' cricket in the UAE, bar a limited overs series against Zimbabwe in Lahore during May.

"It's important we make a statement at the World T20," Afridi said.

"The Zimbabwe series showed how much we miss the people who want to see cricket back home. Maybe we'll get it in a few years, starting with the sub-continent teams. Hopefully the likes of South Africa and England will follow."

With another deadly Taliban attack at Bacha Khan University this week makes that dream unlikely.

Their status as cricketing transients looks set to continue but, with one the most balanced T20 sides, Afridi and his team could at least ease the suffering of their passionate fanbase in March.

- NZ Herald

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