Shahid Afridi made one of the more remarkable comebacks in international cricket when he led Pakistan to a crushing 126-run victory over West Indies in the first One-Day International at the Guyana National Stadium in Georgetown on Sunday (July 14).
Recalled to the national team after being left out of his country's poor Champions Trophy campaign, Afridi returned the best-ever ODI bowling figures by a Pakistani, and the second best overall, in snaring 7 for 12 to rout West Indies for just 98 in 41 overs after having top-scored with a typically swashbuckling 76 in Pakistan’s total of 224 for 9.
"I try hard and I back myself," said Afridi afterwards. “It's not time for me to just survive in the team, but to give a lot to the team. I tried to stay positive. Whenever I got the ball in my zone, I went for it. And what a pitch it was for me to bowl on. I just kept it simple, and it worked."
Afridi’s impact on the match started when he dominated a 120-run sixth-wicket partnership with Misbah-ul-Haq (52), the pair rescuing their team from 47 for 5 after Jason Holder had wrecked the top order on his way to excellent figures of 4 for 13.
While Misbah laboured towards yet another workmanlike half-century off 121 deliveries, Afridi's knock was a hurricane by comparison, decorated by five sixes and six fours off just 55 deliveries.
He looked well on the way to completing a hundred but perished in the 39th over, caught by Darren Sammy at deep midwicket off the bowling of Kieron Pollard.
West Indies would have expected the likes of Pollard or Chris Gayle to produce a similar innings to give their team a fighting chance of getting the 225 runs needed for a win. But that never materialised, and while Afridi took most of the glory with his demolition job with the ball, the early damage was done by Mohammad Irfan.
In overcast, seamer-friendly conditions, Irfan bowled Johnson Charles with a swinging full-toss and then forced Darren Bravo to glove a lifting delivery on the body for Umar Akmal, the wicketkeeper, to take the catch down the leg-side. Pakistan then got a huge boost when Marlon Samuels called Gayle for a sharp single and Misbah's direct hit from cover found Gayle short of his ground.
All the support bowlers maintained the pressure and when Afridi came on as the fifth change, the floodgates really opened.
Only Samuels (25) showed any meaningful resistance, but it was never going to be enough against a rampant Afridi, who finished off the match by trapping Holder lbw.
"We were let down by the batting yet again," said Dwayne Bravo. "Holder bowled so well, and while we have to give credit for the way Afridi and Misbah batted, that total was gettable, but we buckled under pressure."