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Afridi injects all the oomph

We're in south India and a south Indian fast bowler is steaming in to open the bowling of the first Twenty20 to be played in Bangalore, but the loudest cheers are reserved for a handsome pathan lurking at mid-off and far from home. His name is Shahid Afridi, and you've all seen him - he's the guy with the floppy yet well set hair, never short of a word to the opposition and always threatening to blast the ball into orbit.

Maybe this is what they mean by 'star value'. In a tournament shorn of some big names, the response to Afridi's every move spoke volumes about those two words: he's a star, and he gave the crowd value. This was supposed to be the very essence of this match, and to that extent it was a success, never mind the average level of cricket on view.

"To accept Afridi is to know that he will fail often, but when he succeeds, the joy he brings will be unbridled," wrote Osman Samiuddin in these pages three years ago. Afridi proved that he doesn't need to get into his pyrotechnics to get the crowd going. His waspish legspin and athleticism in the field were enough on the day.

There are some match-ups you just can't' pass up. Afridi bowling to Nehemiah Odhiambo wouldn't top anyone's must-watch-in-this-lifetime list, but don't tell anyone at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Afridi was handed the ball after 13 overs and the fans went into delirium. He bounded in, fired in a ripping legbreak, and Odhiambo missed it completely as he attempted to cut. The crowd roared even more as Kamran Akmal let out a highly optimistic appeal and Afridi broke out in a grin, wagging a finger at his Pakistan team-mate in mock warning to be fair to the poor fella at the crease.

Each ball that ripped and fizzed off the surface and beat the bat was cheered with the same gusto as would a wicket. The sizeable crowd cheered, to some extent dizzied by the unending and quite worthy collection of Bollywood music blaring over the PA, every single time Afridi fielded a ball and tossed it back towards the bowler. When Afridi's face was shown on the television screen those cheers morphed into a din.

There is skill, style, ribbing and a whole lot of attitude on view, but there's always one endearing character you take home with you. On this occasion, it was Afridi

The maverick cowboy was a hit. It was like a scene from one of those Hollywood summer action flicks - Armageddon, for instance - when a crack team of specialists are brought together to script a stunning heist or to save the world from a runaway meteorite. There is skill, style, ribbing and a whole lot of attitude on view, but there's always one endearing character you take home with you. On this occasion, it was Afridi.

Loots Bosman carted him flat down the ground for six and hit another half dozen over long-on in a 20-run over, and Afridi clapped. The crowd applauded his gesture as much as they welcomed the Twenty20-style shots from Bosman's blade.

One just needed to step into a sizeable section of the crowd to see their response. "Oh Afridi man, definitely", said one enthused fan. "I just wish Shoaib Malik had decided to bat first. Afridi would've pelted these bowlers."

There were no sixes from Afridi to take it to another level, but a wicket in the final over of the African innings almost did the job: Thandi Tshabalala bowled Afridi for 2. Now there's a short-lived contest that a few Bangaloreans will have taken a good amount of joy from.

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