Why Afridi is right to call for new blood
We have been here before, I hear you say; Shahid Afridi, Pakistan's maverick hero, pondering another retirement, this time from the 50-overs version of international cricket. Afridi's desire for retirement changes with the seasons. People will question his motives. A booming fashion among star cricketers for T20 cricket tends to attract scepticism from fans rather than sympathy. We'd all prefer to be paid more to do less.
But let's strip away our cynicism for a moment and take Afridi's argument at face value: it's time, says the man who is always in a hurry, to make way for new blood and ready Pakistan for a challenge at the next 50-overs World Cup in 2015. It's an argument, whatever Afridi's true motivation, that I believe is compelling.
Pakistan cricket has a new board chairman. A new coaching team has taken charge too. Yet, this month's defeat to Sri Lanka in the ODI series had a stale aroma. No new players entered the fray. Old hands plied their familiar wares, and any old warriors that were recalled were pretty much as we remembered them. Pakistan cricket has rarely planned beyond the next series but success in modern cricket requires greater foresight.
Perhaps it is a delusion, but the conveyor belt of talent that Pakistan was once famous for introducing to the world has become a recycling cart. Instead, the world looks to England, Australia, and even India, to surprise with unfamiliar names and unsung talents. Even the thrill makers in Pakistan cricket are purveyors of established thrills, take Afridi for example.
Pakistan cricket has become a place of rare experiment. Admittedly, experiment isn't always appropriate. A formidable Test team builds at a gradual pace, a tweak here and a shuffle there, experience as vital as ability. The impending World T20 offers little scope for unearthing new stars; Pakistan have a formula and need to finesse it. It is 50-overs cricket that now offers the greatest opportunity for trial and error.
Fifty-overs cricket has become the problem child of the international game, less than the thorough examination of a Test match and the instant fix of a T20 bash. Players want Test cricket to further their status in the game; they crave T20 cricket to firm up their pension fund. Fifty-overs cricket falls between priorities, a game uncertain of purpose or mandate. In the race for survival among formats, 50-overs cricket looks the most vulnerable.
That's argument enough to use 50-overs cricket as an entry route to the international game, a gateway to cricket's longest or shortest forms, or both depending on a player's performance. For Pakistan cricket, this approach is even more compelling one. With three years to go before the next World Cup, the cricket board and selectors need to ask themselves how many of the current bunch can be expected to make a genuine impact in that tournament? Afridi, Misbah, Younis Khan and other senior players are players of the past not the future in 50-overs cricket.
And this is where Afridi's contemplation hits the right note. Pakistan can only hope to compete at the next World Cup with a team of new stars. Warriors, old and recycled, need to make way immediately for a new generation of Pakistan cricketers; players who can mount a serious challenge for the next world title and make a case for inclusion in the Test and T20 sides.
Afridi is right to question his usefulness to the 50-overs effort, as well as the strategy for the 2015 World Cup. His senior colleagues should follow suit. Cricket teams, like empires, run their course and decay. Pakistan cricket needs fresh blood and a fresh direction in ODI cricket. The PCB should identify its potential team for the next World Cup, appoint a new captain, and let Dav Whatmore do the rest. The moment, like Afridi, calls for young blood and new solutions.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here