Shahid Afridi has announced a temporary 'retirement' from Test cricket. In an announcement that caught many in Pakistan by complete surprise, Afridi said that he was planning to concentrate only on ODI cricket to ready himself for the World Cup in 2007. But, in a typically Pakistani twist, Afridi said that he would reconsider his 'retirement' from Tests after the World Cup.
Speaking to Cricinfo, Afridi played down the news: "It's not such a big decision. I want to concentrate on one form of cricket till the World Cup and that is ODIs. I will reconsider the decision to play Tests after the World Cup. As it is there aren't too many Tests till the World Cup so it isn't such a big deal." Pakistan are due to play at least nine Tests between now and next March.
Afridi cited a variety of reasons for his decision, though foremost among them, he blamed the increasing workload on the modern international player. "There's just too much cricket happening at the moment. The international schedules are completely packed and there is hardly any time off. It's all good that we earn good money but there is just too much cricket." Afridi added he wanted to spend more time with his two daughters and his family, something "I haven't been able to do for some time."
Pakistan has just finished a full, cramped home season with two full series against England and India, followed almost immediately by the tour to Sri Lanka. In between, many of the national team's players were contracted to appear in the domestic Twenty20 tournament and though there is a break in the schedule till June, when they fly out to England, they are due to play two ODI matches later this month in Abu Dhabi against India. Afridi missed part of the ODI series against India with a side strain.
He had been thinking about the decision for a few months and is thought to have decided finally, only after consultations with some close friends earlier this evening. "I have been thinking about it seriously since the series against England. I was thinking of doing it then, but with India coming over so soon after, I decided to hold back until that series was over.
Typically, given the situation, there has been speculation that he had taken the decision after having been dropped from the last Test against Sri Lanka in Kandy, a Test Pakistan ultimately won. One senior journalist told Cricinfo that Afridi had been angry with the team management over his axing and decided, in the heat of the moment, to `retire.' Television commentators had also expressed considerable surprise over the decision and given how valuable a Test player he had been since his recall, the reaction wasn't a surprise. Afridi though was quick to deny this: "No, absolutely not. There was no pressure, no spat. It is just too much cricket and that is it. It is not a permanent thing anyway." Afridi earlier told a local television channel that he hadn't yet informed the PCB of his decision although he had discussed it with Inzamam-ul-Haq, who told him he would respect any decision taken. Inzamam told Reuters "I would not like to create any pressure on him to do something he does not want to do at this stage."
The format he has chosen to take retirement from is particularly surprising given that in the last year, Afridi has become one of Pakistan's most valuable Test players. In fact, since his recall to the Test squad in January last year against Australia, in ten Tests, he has averaged 47.44 with four hundreds and three fifties. Some of his innings, such as the 58 against India in Bangalore last March, have changed the course of the Test and with 23 wickets, he finally appeared settled in the Test side. In contrast, in 43 ODIs since Bob Woolmer's arrival as coach - when Afridi was recalled to the ODI side - he averages just under 23 with the bat, with only three fifties. His solitary century of course was the 45-ball special against India. But with the ball he has been a revelation and his bag of leggies, offies, wrong `uns and quicker ones has resulted in 51 wickets.
Afridi was adamant, however, that he had no regrets over his decision to leave the Test side just when he seemed settled. "I have no regrets, I mean it's only a temporary decision, but I just want to concentrate on one form of cricket for the moment." 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.