Cricketers have had several nicknames (sometimes pet names) which are remembered long after they have departed. The first that comes to my mind is that of Fred Truman, who was a fast bowler of epic proportions. His speed could only be matched with his fiery temperament, which was why he was called Fiery Freddie Truman.
We had Merry Max (Maqsood Ahmad), who was born 30 years too early, for he was fond of hitting the ball mercilessly. ‘Hit out or get out’ was his motto and each time he came to the crease, things perked up. Even sleepy radio commentators woke up. He played Tests but he was meant for what was initially called, ‘instant cricket’. No prizes for guessing that the term was used for One Day cricket, somewhat disdainfully by the purists, who thought that only five- or six-day games were real cricket.
Merry Max (not Marry Max) was once out at the score of 99 (his highest) when playing against India in the 1954-55 series. A cricket fan, addicted to radio commentary, got his first and last heart attack. Subhash Gupte, who took five wickets in a deadly spell, including Merry Max’s prize wicket, said that if he had even the slightest inkling about the tragic turn of events, he would have postponed sending his Pakistani friend back to the pavilion, until he completed what would have been his only 100.
Few would remember that pop singer Nazia Hasan’s second (or was it third?) album was titledBoom Boom. But unluckily, its sales and popularity were no patch for her earlier one – Young Tarang.
We then heard of the dual word, ‘Boom Boom’ when Shahid Afridi punished the Indian bowlers with sixes after sixes in New Delhi. He had earlier created record for the fastest century in ODIs in Kenya in the second match that he played (in the first one, he didn’t get a chance to bat).
Afridi has surpassed Sanath Jayasuriya’s what seemed to be an inaccessible record of the highest number of sixes, a few months ago. Statisticians will tell you how many the two scored. All I know is that our flamboyant (read, unpredictable) batsman crossed the Sri Lankan’s record in fewer matches.
The wheel of fortune has completed one full circle. Afridi was selected to play for Pakistan because the leg spinner, Mushtaq Ahmed was unfit. Wasim Akram recalls that when he saw a well-built, fair-looking lad hitting Waqar Younis mercilessly above the ropes during practice, he decided to ball to the mercurial young man himself. I must confess I got the same treatment from him.
But now Afridi is much more invaluable as a bowler than as a batsman. His guile and his variety is amazing. While these lines are being written (on the eve of the semi-final) he has taken the highest number of wickets in the current edition of the World Cup, twenty-one being the current number. He has also proved to be a competent captain in the shorter forms of the game.
Years ago, while waiting for a flight from San Francisco airport, I ran into three Indian students, who asked me if I was an Indian, to which I said I was from their neighbouring country. “Oh! So you are from the land of Boom Boom Shahid Afridi?”
“Do you like to watch him bat?” I queried.
“Yes, we love to see him bat but not when he is playing against our boys,” was the reply.
Boom Boom was the nickname given to him by none other than Ravi Shastri, while he was commentating on an India-Pakistan ODI. What happens when Afridi doesn’t score? They love him so much that no one says, ‘Doom Doom’.
When I was writing a book on the charismatic cricketer for Liberty Books, Karachi, we racked our brains and finally thought the title of the book should be ‘Boom Boom Shahid Afridi‘. You know what? The book sold very well. There was a slight drop in the sales when he bit the ball but then when he started taking wicket after wicket, its sales have taken an upward swing once again. So, anything that has the tag of Boom Boom is unpredictable but never, I repeat never, dull.
Asif Noorani, a seasoned journalist, is the writer of three best-selling books including ‘Boom, Boom Shahid Afridi’ which is available at Liberty Books.