April 27, 2006

Pakistan

The 15 day retirement

ESPNcricinfo staff

Blink and you’ll miss it,” went Cricinfo’s "All Today’s Yesterdays" column today. For a moment I mistook it for a reference to Shahid Afridi’s 15 day old retirement that got reversed today. It seems only a few hundred left-button clicks since I read Osman Samiuddin’s breaking news about Afridi withdrawing himself from Test matches. The wise man that he is, Osman remembered to add these last moment prophetic words before rounding off his article:

“Given the sudden timing of his announcement, however, and the fierce speculation now surrounding the circumstances of his axing from the last Test, it is unlikely that we have heard the last of this.”

Bukhari, secretary of Afridi’s home association KCCA, hints at a disappointment at being an in-and-out member for too long. "It was unfortunate that Shahid was sidelined from the Pakistan team for quite some time before he staged an exciting comeback. He appears to be upset after being dropped in the recent Kandy Test against Sri Lanka.”

A few days back we also had this stereotypical ‘unnamed’ official (there are millions of them crowding the corridors in the subcontinent) throwing his unstated weight in by confirming Afridi’s reasons of retirement:

"This has come as quite a surprise although he intimated that he was not up for the Sri Lankan tour saying that he had played too much cricket. He actually asked to be left out of the Test side at Kandy."

Osman read the game well. One can sense that half-smile of his tearing through the pages as he now writes:

“Less than a fortnight after announcing a surprise retirement from Test cricket, Shahid Afridi has reversed his decision following talks with Shaharyar Khan, the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman and Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach. “

PCB chairman Shahriyar Khan has come out with his interesting thoughts on the possible reason behind the original Afridi decision. "I don't think it was due to any differences within the team. I think he felt the pressure of having to perform for a crowd every time he went to bat. In Faisalabad and Karachi recently the ovation he has got has been absolutely phenomenal. Some English players told me when they played in Karachi they'd never seen the type of reception Afridi got when he came out to bat. In Faisalabad, people left the stadium when he was out."

Now here’s the curious part: Pakistan skipper Inzamam does not get a mention in the coverages dealing with Afridi and his retirement since Afridi mentioned having spoken to him about the matter while announcing his hiatus. I checked it out with an article search on Cricinfo archives. Inzamam, till the moment I write this, continues to stay out of the loop even as we learn of Afridi reversing his ‘retirement’ decision.

Everyone involved with the career of Afridi – Bukhari, Shahriyar Khan, Bob Woolmer – has issued statements urging the allrounder to reconsider but not Inzamam. Do we assume that he has only this uneasy silence to offer on the issue or is Pakistan cricket growing used to giving him a cold shoulder off the cricket field? “Perhaps Inzamam does not exactly welcome Afridi back with open arms in his Test team,” some unnamed source may be itching to come up with this quote. Seriously though, anyone used to the ways of cricket in the sub-continent will suspect a hidden angle to it.

To be fair to the Pakistan captain he had issued a formal reaction on the matter to the media: "I would not like to create any pressure on him to do something he does not want to do at this stage." Even so, this is hardly the father figure that broke his silence during the Shoaib Akhtar issue less than a year ago and aired his views on the errant champion with an aim to align the bowler’s personal aspirations to the team’s cause.

Frankly these are mere speculations that are part and parcel of any contention. Circumstances often invite people to read more into some words, and silences, than they should. Pratyush Khaitan interpreted the Afridi retirement thus. Why, this could even be a mid-career ‘brand valuation’ exercise carried out by an unintroduced canny person behind the popular Afridi personality, a smart celebrity that intends to assess the quantum of hay that can be made while the sun shines on his cricket career.

Afridi knows his body and its requirements better than anyone else. He has a good chance of lenthening his ODI career by opting for Test retirement and that may not be a dumb move at all. We all are aware of the popularity (and consequently, brand value potential for its stars) that one-dayers enjoy in these parts. Ajay Jadeja could never cement his Test place and has last played international cricket 5 years ago and yet he gets regular invitations to TV shows for his views when India plays one-dayers. Everyone remembers Ajay as a one-time hero who hit mighty Waqar Younis for 22 and 18 in two overs in a World Cup quarter-final.

Afridi’s initial decision to retire, the subsequent reversal and the reasons he stated for each will be re-assessed in the light of events that occur in Afridi’s career in the lead up to 2007 World Cup. A feeling remains that we are further away from an end to the affair than Shahid Afridi, Shahriyar Khan and others in the know would like us to believe.

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Posted by Jay on (May 1, 2006, 1:21 GMT)

This whole thing puts me in a spin. To me, Afridi's retirement was not just an administrative or communicative failure on the PCB's part but a moral equivalence debate on a larger scale. It is impossible to legislate loyalty to a team or ethical behavior but bailing out on your team like Afridi did, regardless of the reason, seems rather unethical.

When Afridi went international as a 16 year old in '96 he was anything but a finished product. Over the next several years, the Pakistani cricket authority invested considerable amounts of resources in his development. Afridi was constantly in the loop, either making sporadic test appearances or at least being picked for the sweet-16. His performances remained inconsistent at best. At the same time, Pakistani cricket fans waited patiently for Afridi to come into his own. It was only last year that Afridi began translating his abundant talent into test-class performances. It was a long wait for the team and the fans but we all thought it was well worth it.

Now, is it morally correct for him to think that he can 'skip' test cricket for a year on the basis of fatigue? Players have, and continue to (Gilchrist very recently) ask for breaks and rest periods. However, this freedom of expression doesn't grant them a license to pick and choose when and where they want to play. Well, this sort of behavior is definitely not appropriate from someone who has barely played two dozen tests for Pakistan. Had Inzy skipped a series or two citing body fatigue as the reason, his argument would have been well justified. Inzy is 36, has served Pakistan cricket for a decade and a half appearing in a 100+ test matches. Afridi on the other hand is 26 and at the peak of his physical ability and still hasn't earned his war medallions like Inzy has. Therefore, this 'veteran' behavior from Afridi strikes me as rather odd and quite unethical.

Posted by Jay on (April 29, 2006, 19:18 GMT)

They threatened him with a paycut and he buckled. Besides Afridi is one of those money-making machine cricketers who is always looking to make more appearances (or so it seems at least). If he really needs to rest this bad then he should have skipped his visit to Ireland to play cricket. I think he was annoyed at being dropped from the lineup and in turn decided to annoy the hell out of his fans/board. But all's well that ends well. Welcome back Afridi! We were just beginning to miss you.

Posted by Zainub on (April 29, 2006, 5:01 GMT)

I suspect you're right, we'll have to wait till Afridi _really_ retires and publishes his autobiography to find out what _really_ happened. At the moment, I'm just glad he's back.

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