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The different strokes of two of cricket’s gems

The just concluded Asia Cup saw two senior pros — Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi and Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene — play vital roles in their team’s success through their contrasting batting styles.

While Afridi displayed his trademark aggressive tactics, Jayawardene exhibited his calm and composed approach, but both produced positive results for their teams.

One of the reasons cricket has remained a spectator sport is because of these types of players, who believe in their styles and refuse to change their philosophy despite being criticised heavily at times. Both are undoubtedly the two gems from sub-continent cricket.

If not for Afridi’s knock, Pakistan would not have made it to the Asia Cup final, and had Jayawardene not kept his cool, especially after the fall of Kumar Sangakkara’s wicket for a duck, Sri Lanka would not have emerged as champions.

Afridi has often been criticised for throwing away his wicket because, of late, he has not been among the runs. Jayawardene too was accused of having lost his touch and ability to play match-winning knocks. The beauty of these two players is that if they stay at the wicket, it is doomsday for their opponents.

The ease with which Afridi smashes his sixes and the perfection with which Jayawardene picks the gaps are special. When Afridi is in full flow, the scoreboard races at a tremendous pace, whereas Jayawardene accelerates the run-rate with no one even being aware of it.

Most cricketers who are aggressive on the field are just the opposite off it. In case of Afridi and Jayawardene, they carry their traits off the pitch too.

As captain, Afridi enjoyed entertaining the media with his in-your-face answers. Once in Johannesburg a reporter wanted to know how he had changed over the years as an international cricketer. Afridi stumped him with the answer: “I have got a beard.”

Another time in Dubai when a reporter questioned Afridi’s decision on his team’s batting order, he replied: “Should I have opted for you to bat in that position”? Often his press conferences can be as entertaining as his batting.

Jayawardene is just the opposite and very shrewd with his replies. Once when I’d asked him if he ever felt he should have done better in his career, he said: “I could have done better, but given the roles that I have played in the team I feel I’ve managed to win matches for my team than just play for personal achievements.”

It’s unfortunate both are nearing the evening of their careers, so fans should store their Asia Cup performances in their memories forever.