After weeks of growing tension and speculation Shahid Afridi, Pakistan's recently axed one-day captain, has announced his retirement from the international game. It is, however, a "conditional" retirement in protest against the way he has been "humiliated" by the PCB, a temporary self-imposed exile more than a permanent retirement. Afridi said he was ready to reverse his decision if and when a new board came into power.
"There is nothing bigger than a man's respect, and the way the board has treated me, there is a limit to everything," an emotional, angry Afridi told Geo TV from London, where he is currently preparing for a Twenty20 stint with Hampshire. "I will not play under this board. If a different board comes in, I will definitely return but I cannot play under this board. When you have been humiliated like this, by dishonourable people, what is the point in playing on?
"The way I've been treated... the future doesn't look too good. I can't play under a board that doesn't respect its players. Because of this, under protest, this is a conditional retirement."
Afridi, a Pathan who has lived in Karachi all his life, also hit out at "a Lahore lobby that has been filling the chairman's ears against me," reviving an issue of regionalism that has been festering for some time now, and shows few signs of stopping; in recent weeks, Karachi officials have protested loudly against the PCB for not selecting players from the city.
The decision caps - for now - a saga that began last December effectively, when the board first began to hesitate in appointing Afridi captain. He was made leader for the New Zealand ODI series and then, only two weeks before the tournament began was he made captain for the World Cup. The impermanent nature of his appointments was one of the reasons for Afridi's unhappiness.
"I wasn't told anything when I was made captain, I wasn't given a tenure, I wasn't told what my squad would be, nothing," Afridi said. "I took a broken team along with me. When I took over the Pakistan team was in the middle of the spot-fixing crisis. Then the Zulqarnain Haider case happened but my side fought both against England and South Africa in the ODI series. Then we beat New Zealand, we got to the semis of the World Cup and beat West Indies there as well. Maybe I have become a thorn in their throats. It's better that I step aside for now as I have respect for myself."
But the tipping point came upon Afridi's arrival back from the Caribbean, growing differences between him and coach Waqar Younis over matters of selection being another concern. Then, he told reporters, "Although the differences in team management are not such which could not be solved, I feel everyone should do his job and need not interfere in other's work".
That led to the board issuing him a show-cause notice to explain his remarks, unhappy with his penchant for public straight-talking and his cosy relationship with the media; indeed it is understood a major concern of the board was their belief that Afridi was leaking news to the media. Incidentally, Afridi didn't touch on the selection issue at all when announcing his decision, though he did say that as captain, if he "didn't speak to the media, who else in the team would?"
Soon after his return, the board removed him from the ODI captaincy he picked up in June 2010, not giving any official reason for the removal. "We had very solid reasons to remove Afridi and I will reveal them when the time is right," PCB chairman Ijaz Butt said recently. "We haven't taken this action without any reasons."
That prompted Afridi to pull out of the two ODIs against Ireland; speculation was that he was unhappy over his ouster, though he said he had decided to miss the series due to his father's ill-health. It was around this time that stories began to appear that he may retire soon.
Afridi is not new to retirement. He first announced a temporary sabbatical from Test cricket in April 2006, in a bid to concentrate only on ODIs in the lead-up to the 2007 World Cup. He later returned to the side, and even led Pakistan's Test side at the start of their tumultuous tour of England last summer. He, however, once again retired from the longest format, as soon as Pakistan lost the first Test against Australia at Lord's.
How long the current impasse lasts is difficult to ascertain. Afridi, until the World Cup, was Pakistan's most effective and successful limited-overs bowler of the last three years. And his public popularity - he remains the most sought-after autograph in Pakistan as well as the only current player brands will invest in - ensures that the pressure on the PCB, and in particular the chairman, will be immense.
In any case, Butt's tenure has been pockmarked by constant instability - nine captaincy changes in Tests and ODIs, five different selection heads and three coaches - and regular spats with senior players: Mohammad Yousuf announced a brief retirement last year and Younis Khan wasn't chosen for almost a year after the pair were handed open-ended bans last year. Shoaib Malik and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan have also faced one-year bans (eventually overturned), while after the World Cup, Butt had a dig at Abdul Razzaq as well, saying that he should retire now.
Afridi will play in the Friends Life t20 for Hampshire, and he will also be available for the inaugural edition of the Sri Lankan Premier League, while continuing to participate in domestic cricket in Pakistan as well.