Boom Boom goes to Razzaq

Fans from the subcontinent say the all-rounder has more substance than the captain Afridi does, writes Chuck Culpepper.

It is quite evident Pakistan cricket fans at Dubai International Cricket Stadium have great fondness for both their all-rounders.
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DUBAI // As the Tuesday sky slid from yellow to orange to black at Dubai Sports City, the considerable organs known as Pakistani cricket hearts clearly had taken on fresh renovations.

Somewhere down the corridors from the chambers that keep ample room for Shahid Afridi, the space set aside for one Abdul Razzaq had widened.

With that celestial 109 from 72 deliveries on Sunday in Abu Dhabi at a dire cricket moment in a dour cricket era for Pakistan, Razzaq did more than level the one-day internationals in the ongoing UAE tour against South Africa. He did more than furnish Pakistan with a sorely needed win.

No, to hear some of the droves hurrying through blowing sand toward the cricket ground, the 30-year-old veteran who first played for Pakistan before age 17 also wrought a stack of unintended feats.

He performed mood surgery and supplied happiness implants.

"We are very excited and very happy because, you know, the Pakistani people are very sad," said Daryafat Khan, a Dubai resident from Nowshera close to Peshawar.

"Because there is flooding, there is terrorism, there is how many casualties. There are many bad things happening . . . One match. Everything changed. Before we were very sad, very tired. When we are thinking about our country, anybody living here, the thoughts for our country are very sad. Nobody expected them winning the match, the last one. But he did it."

It felt as if all the loud wretchedness - two bad tours, one corruption-charging tabloid - seemed to abate with Razzaq's calm head. "When he entered the stadium it was like he was ready to attack," said Nassir Jehan, a Dubai resident from Peshawar. "He was not bothered with what was going on, on the other side. He was on his mission. He was focused."

He boosted attendance.

"Because nobody can think that we would win that match, but after that Pakistan came back, that's why we are coming here," said Malik Javed Iqbal, a Dubai resident from Sialkot who on Sunday watched with his nephew even after they discussed maybe stopping watching. "If Pakistan will lose that match, nobody will come here."

"Today all the crowd is coming for him, because he played beautifully," Daryafat said.

He regenerated the discussion over his relatively low turn in the batting order. "For me, he never has been right in the batting order," Jehan said, preferring him second or third, closer to where the Hyderabad Heroes batted him in the Indian Cricket League.

He ushered fans back into the globally practiced art of star comparisons. "I love Afridi, but Afridi is not the No 1 batsman," said Jamil Ahmed, hurrying toward the stadium and throning Razzaq.

"He's an entertainer," Jehan said of Afridi. "He comes and plays six balls and has two sixes and people are happy but when it comes to getting the game to work, then it's Razzaq." He likes Afridi but notes his popularity among Pakistanis in the UAE owes partly to the large number hailing from Afridi's home area around Peshawar.

"I think everyone, the heart has moved to Razzaq," Daryafat said, bursting into laughter at the mania. On the bus, he said, some fans stated intent to fill out their charts with Razzaq listed as "Boom Boom Razzaq," commandeering Afridi's nickname. Shahid, a thoughtful cricket aficionado from Punjab on hand for Dubai Electricity and Water Authority in case of any stadium problems, sat in his work truck outside the stadium listening on radio and fielding updates from a coworker.

"Afridi is energetic," he said. "He will never play a boring innings. That's why people like him. He has no patience. Whether he stays half an hour or an hour, he will make that game alive. He can't wait for so long. He wants to perform and he is always in a hurry and he is very confident."

That, and, with a grin: "He's also good-looking."

Shahid laments team inconsistency - "Our team can do the worst and do the best every time" - and sagely shuns player comparisons. "Afridi has his own place in the hearts of the people," he said - the 300 matches, the performances, the records - but Razzaq's rare Sunday rescue caused Shahid no big surprise. He cited other recent flourishes as in England, but then he spoke of 109 from 72 and he said, "This will be remembered," and that seemed clear.

"If Razzaq will keep this on, people will start liking him even more, because Pakistani people are so much emotional," Shahid said.