KARACHI: Pakistani greats expressed dismay Tuesday at Shahid Afridi's shock decision to quit international cricket, as officials said the "doors are open" for the influential all-rounder's return.
Former captain Rashid Latif urged the government to resolve the problem of the national team losing top players after Afridi, who was stripped of the one-day captaincy after a spat with authorities, retired late Monday.
"His decision to retire, after people like Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf left, should be treated as a serious issue and I demand the Pakistan government to form a committee and solve this," said Latif.
Ex-skipper Wasim Akram, under whom Afridi developed in the 1990s, called the development "sad" and said Pakistan had become a standing joke in cricket circles.
"It is sad and will hurt Pakistan cricket badly," Wasim told AFP. "Just last month Afridi was showered with praise after he took Pakistan to the World Cup 2011 semi-final, given cash awards and suddenly this happened.
"Wherever I go people ask me what's happening in Pakistan cricket. They laugh at us and I am left embarrassed," he added. "I think even the best doctors do not have a treatment for Pakistan cricket."
Afridi, 31, stood down from international duty after a row with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) over critical comments about coach Waqar Younis after this year's World Cup, when the team reached the semi-finals.
"I am dejected and hurt and whatever I said about the coach it was in the best interest of the team," he told AFP from London.
"I will not play under this set-up of the PCB which has treated players roughly," he added.
Younis relinquished the captaincy after the 2009 Champions Trophy while Yousuf announced his retirement last year, a decision which he rescinded later. Both had tangled with the PCB.
The body's chairman Ijaz Butt insisted Afridi, known as one of cricket's most destructive limited-overs batsmen, would be welcomed back if he chose to reverse his decision.
"To retire from cricket is Afridi's decision," Butt told a local television channel. "We have not stopped Afridi from playing and the doors are open for him."
Afridi, who retired from Tests last year, was already hugely popular for his muscular batting and leg-spin, and had won rave reviews for uniting Pakistan after last year's spot-fixing scandal and taking them to the World Cup semis.
The big, bearded Afridi is known for hitting the fastest ever one-day century, off just 37 balls against Kenya in 1996, in his first international innings aged just 16. He also holds the record for most one-day sixes (289).
"As Pakistan captain Afridi should not have made his differences with coach public and should have solved them without coming to the media, and the PCB has also not tackled this fairly," said Wasim.
But another former captain, Moin Khan, laid the blame squarely at the PCB's door.
"This is a mistake of PCB administration," said Khan. "Afridi never took any names while he criticised the policies and Board took note of that, why no one in the government taking notice of PCB's actions of last three years."
Fans on the street backed Afridi, who was known to empty stadiums when he was given out.
"Afridi has taken a good decision," said Ali Nayyer, a student at Karachi University. "PCB has mis-treated him and they should be removed so that Afridi returns, we love him."