DUBAI // Shahid Afridi has definitely started something. As the first child in a lengthy queue of autograph hunters beat a path away from him with a miniature bat already signed, and towards the bouncy castle, his father told him: "He'll be in my company team next year."
The gentleman's employers had better be well connected. Buoyed by Afridi's weekend cameo appearance, Fly Emirates claimed the title at the first Emirates Airline Twenty20 last night, at the expense of three professional clubs. They will not give him up lightly. The all-rounder and occasional Pakistan captain did not even play that well, certainly not by his own high standards. But he galvanised the amateur players of the airline staff side, initially to a claim a win over the emerging Cape Cobras that seemed impossible at one point to seal their place in the final.
An innings of 23 not out from 19 balls does not sound like much by Afridi's yardsticks. It did, however, allow Emirates to eke out a total of 138 that seemed defendable, given the parlous state of the recently laid wicket. The South African side looked to be home and hosed when they reached 108 for no loss, but a spectacular implosion sparked by the two left-arm spin-bowlers, Nigel Fernandes and Khurram Khan, left them short.
"It feels very strange that we have lost two games, and it looked like we were losing the third, but we are still through to the final," said Afridi. "I have really enjoyed playing with the crew. It was good fun and good entertainment. The guys are very talented and I will definitely come back next year if I am asked." Defeat was tough to take for the Cobras, the majority of whom are teenagers. Their inexperience told as they stuttered when victory was within their grasp.
"To be honest with you, I have no idea what happened after I was out," said Derek Brand, whose 69 for Cape Cobras was the highest of the tournament. "Guys started going for big shots that probably weren't on. [Fly Emirates] played really well. They stuck to their gameplan, and it worked well for them." Sadly for his newly-adopted teammates, Emirates' star import, Afridi, was unfit to play in the final, against the English county side, Sussex Sharks.
He was feeling a slight strain in his knee, and opted not to risk playing another 40 overs of cricket before he flies home today to start preparing for the World Twenty20. Even without him, Emirates hardly want for talent, and they gained another rousing success in the final. They made only 85 themselves, but their canny bowlers did not need to work too hard to find enough demons in the pitch to make the pursuit tough.
They eventually won by 14 runs, as Arshad Ali strangled the life out of the chase with three for seven from his four overs. Sussex had cruised through to the final with three consecutive wins. England's reigning Twenty20 Cup champions sealed their place in the evening showpiece when they earned a particularly satisfying 34-run win over their English rivals Surrey. email@example.com