It is not possible to know if Shahid Afridi’s retirement from the game will be permanent — he had taken back an earlier retirement from Test cricket a few years ago, only to end up coming back as captain — and he has called this retirement “conditional”. But his announcement is yet another sign that all is not right with cricket in this country. Afridi’s decision was the conclusion to a very public feud with coach Waqar Younis and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). He blamed Waqar for keeping him out of the loop on selection matters and was stripped of the ODI and T20 captaincy for this outburst.
Afridi was certainly out of line in his public criticism. But that is what we have come to expect from the impetuous all-rounder. His passion sometimes leads him astray, in both his shot selection and his public pronouncements. But it is this zeal that made Afridi one of our most popular cricketers. Afridi may have paid the price for his outburst against Waqar, but there are other villains in this saga. PCB chairman Ijaz Butt has taken the art of hiring and firing captains to a new level. He terminated the captaincy of Younus Khan, one of the most perceptive captains the country has ever had, simply because a cabal of players demanded it. Butt’s disastrous reign needs to be addressed, preferably by showing him the door.
If Afridi’s retirement is indeed final, let us remember him, warts and all, as the perfect embodiment of cricket the way Pakistan approaches it. Blessed with more talent than most international cricketers, Afridi could be maddening in his approach. When he came off, such as the time when he scored the fastest hundred in ODI cricket, he could be the most devastating batsman around. His fast leg-spinners were potent and deadly. Everything Afridi did he did with joy. There is a tendency to overstate the achievements of players when they depart, but Shahid Afridi truly was one of a kind.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2011.