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I don’t know whether to call it a god-given gift. But some of us Pathan kids, particularly those born in Khyber Agency (like Shahid Afridi), can perform some amazing tricks. For instance, he could from a very young age crack walnuts, eat apples and apricots using his nose! And, not surprisingly, when the situation demands it, Shahid can also smell with his mouth and his teeth. Now, you may ask where I sourced these unbelievable personal traits from. Well, it has not come from his lawyer, a die-hard fan or a family-member. It’s all courtesy the redoubtable Dr K.R. Knows, an authority on nasal ingestion of food and other oddities: Biting With The Nose and Smelling With Your Mouth (Macmillan/McGraw-Hill; 600 pages). The tome has not only been translated into Pashto and Hindi, but the good doctor is tipped to be honoured with a Padma award next year by the Indian government. I tell you, some people have all the luck....
Anyway, to get to the point, given Afridi’s special gift, I can’t understand all the hullabaloo at Perth about him ‘biting’ the ball during the Pakistan-Australia one-dayer. Please take it from me, the young man was telling the truth when he told a TV network that he was merely smelling the ball. As I see it, if Afridi really wanted to tear into the seam he could very well have used his nose and no one would have even an inkling of what he was doing! So, I think in the great Pathan tradition, the ICC must accept he did nothing wrong. In fact, he has often confided in me that inhaling the aroma from a cricket ball that’s 30 overs old gives him a buzz. I guess it must be like a cocaine rush or something like that. Anyway, if even all these explanations don’t convince you, then let me share Afridi’s most closely guarded secret: more than biting into a ball, he enjoys cricket bats marinated in spicy pudina chutney. In fact, once on an English tour he even tried chomping on gloves dipped in tea. His simplistic verdict later was “Yeh bakwas hai! Koi taste nahin.”
To come back to the Perth incident, my understanding of Law 42.3 of the ICC rulebook says nothing about smelling a ball. Yes, players cannot gain unfair advantage by disturbing the seam and surface of the ball—something that several cricketers have been accused of in the past. But then we bowlers are at a distinct disadvantage because the laws of the game and the pitches favour batsmen. So, every now and then someone tries to tamper the ball. But not Afridi—he didn’t bite, he only used his teeth to smell.
Meanwhile, I understand his female fans have been calling in expressing their sympathies. One of them even cooed—“Shahidbhai what’s wrong with biting a ball? It’s as bad as cricketers biting their nails.” If she only knew he was just smelling....
(As imagined by Ajith Pillai)