Game Changer by Shahid Afridi with Wajahat S Khan review: Refreshingly honest and always entertaining

Sometimes spiky, undoubtedly opinionated, former Pakistan cricket captain is a warrior both on and off the field

Shahid Afridi captain's Pakistan against the old enemy, India.
Shahid Afridi captain's Pakistan against the old enemy, India.

He appeared steady as rock when he captained the Pakistan cricket team during some of his country’s most turbulent times, both on and off the field. Away from the crease however, Shahid Afridi is a walking contradiction.

As batsman he held the record for the fastest century in one day international cricket and still he still holds the record for the most sixes in that form of the game. But he still considers himself a bowler.

Off the field he loved to party, but was nonetheless a devout Muslim. He loves democracy, but has a more than healthy respect for his country’s armed forces and former military dictators.

He would refuse to let his daughters play outdoor sports, yet for him cricket was the only thing he wanted to do and could do. And boy could he play.

All this emerges in his new autobiography Game Changer, written with esteemed Pakistani journalist and broadcaster Wajahat S Khan, which takes us on his journey as one of 11 children from Khyber mountains, into the megacity of Karachi and to the pinnacle of world cricket.

Refreshingly honest and excellently written, Afridi does not hold back.

Whether espousing about the spot-fixing scandal, which saw three of his teammates convicted of taking bribes from a bookmaker to underperform, the current state of the team, his country’s relationship with India, or Pakistani politics - now led by another former cricket star Imran Khan - he tells it how he sees it.

It makes for a compelling read.

First and foremost, it is the story of a cricketer, one who honed his skills on concrete playgrounds despite his father’s disapproval.

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Hailing from a nice middle class background, he was sent to a private school in the hope this would lead to a respectable profession. Not a chance.

Even he couldn’t have predicted how famous the game would make him and at such a young age.

Plucked from a Pakistan under 19s tour of the West Indies, aged just 16 years and 217 days, he would walk into his first, first team match to bat at number three against 1996 World Cup winners Sri Lanka.

Within 37 balls he had broken the record for the fastest century in one day international cricket. It would stand for 14-years and catapult him to fame around the cricketing world, while making him an instant superstar in his homeland.

Although this would help him to help his family, who were struggling financially at the time, it would bring different pressures both on and off the field - all of which he tackles head on in this book.

While many sporting autobiographies get bogged down with the minuteai of every ball, shot or match with the help of Khan he tells his story concisely, but without sparing the detail.

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He tells you exactly why he fell out with his cricketing idol and on many, many occasions, the Pakistani cricketing authorities.

Yet he no less sparing about his own form and failings.

As captain at the time, he offers a unique insight into the spot-fixing scandal which brought shame on the game for his country.

While he may have talked a little more about his own family, you learn as much, if not more, about the man and what he thinks about a range of subjects, as you do the cricketer.

While he denies any interest, at times you wonder whether he might follow Mr Khan into politics. Sometimes spiky, undoubtedly opinionated, he is a warrior both on and off the field. You suspect he might do well were he to enter that arena.

For the moment, he will be in the UK for the Cricket World Cup. Looking at the current team, they could use a man like him in their ranks.

Perhaps they should read this book, which even for those who are not fans of the sport, is engaging, entertaining and well worth a read.

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