DUBAI // Shahid Afridi's army of UAE-based supporters will get a second chance to see their idol in action within the space of a month, when he lines up alongside a team of baggage handlers and cabin crew at next month's Emirates Twenty20. The 29-year-old all-rounder will play for Fly Emirates, the domestic club side made up of airline employees, during the weekend festival of the abridged format at The Sevens.
The side, which is otherwise made up of amateur players, will be taking on two English counties, Sussex and Surrey, as well as the South African side, Cape Cobras, on March 19 and 20. "It is going to be a tough challenge, but I am looking forward to it immensely," said Afridi. "I always enjoy my time in Dubai. I know there is a real passion among cricket fans in the UAE and it will be great to play in front of them."
Afridi, who captains Pakistan in the 20-over game, is in the middle of a two-match ban for ball tampering. He should return for the second of two Twenty20s against England on Saturday at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. While the term "freelance crick-eter" may initially have been coined in reference to Andrew Flintoff, the injured England all-rounder, it is Afridi who is really becoming the first Twenty20 hired hand.
He played for the South Australia Redbacks in Australia's recent Twenty20 Big Bash, and will represent Hampshire in the England Twenty20 Cup this summer. He would also have been certain of a lucrative deal in the Indian Premier League, had Pakistan players not been sidelined by visa issues. His latest colleagues may only have the chance to call him their teammate for a weekend, but the prospect already has them salivating. "I can't believe that Shahid Afridi will be playing for us," said Nigel Fernandes, the UAE batsman and Fly Emirates captain.
"He is a player I greatly admire. He is a natural talent who can win matches single-handedly. "It will be an incredible experience for everyone in the team and a real honour to line up beside him." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org