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On Shahid Afridi and Pakistan’s retirement blues


Shahid_Afridi_Pakistan_cricketImagine standing on a cricket field. Imagine that you are representing your country. Wearing the national kit, you stand in line with your child hood heroes; now your team mates. Your chest swells with pride as the national anthem plays and you watch your country’s flag aloft in the stands. The world media is on you and the cheering, hysterical fans are here to see you play. They bellow your name, egg you on, and challenge you to perform and become a part of cricketing folklore. Lady luck is smiling on you as the culmination of a lifelong passion is now at hand. This is the coming together of all those moments that pushed you back, and almost made you quit. Your tormentors and cynics, all seem like a distant dream. That which you fantasized is now reality. What greater feeling than this for a sports person?

Now imagine that your national side is Pakistan. It means you would have beaten the odds, squeezed out every ounce of talent you had, remain impervious to setbacks, and persevered against a fragmented system and a psychopathic culture to make it this far. Even as you make it to the national side you are never sure when you might face the proverbial axe. Will it be in the next match or the one after that or the next series? It will come as a very unpleasant surprise. No wonder then that when the time to let go finally comes around, it’s the most difficult thing to. There is always that lingering feeling that something is left to be desired. This is despite that cricketers know the importance of timing, on and off the field. The right decision taken at the wrong time makes for a very inconvenient ending; retiring being one of those decisions.

Retirements have never come easy for Pakistan superstars in the last decade or so. In fact, it has been the quintessential Achilles heels for them. The 50 overs World Cup in 2003 was fiasco with the team exiting in the first round. This led to the sacking of eight players and consequently also set the ball rolling for the retirement of greats like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saeed Anwar. Then it was the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, and with that, another first round exit. Inzamam-ul-haq decided to call it a day. Mohali, 2011, was to be the epilogue for Shoaib’s career. It never happened. Instead Shoaib’s last over in international cricket went for 4,6,6,1,0,4,1,6. This was at Pallekele against New Zealand. Misbah-ul-Haq quit his career after the 2015 World Cup in Australia. He ended as ‘tuk’ ‘tuk’ Misbah, a euphemism for his slow strike rate in a team, a team which would not last 50 overs without him playing. Misbah bowed out as both the savior and the villain. Similarly, Mohammed Yousuf and Abdul Razzaq have also never managed the farewell they probably deserved. Yousuf, in fact, has never managed an official press conference to announce his retirement. This is for the guy who has scored 1788 runs at an average of 99.33 in 2006. Unceremonious endings to otherwise fantastic careers.


Recently though, all the talk has been about Shahid Afridi and his planned retirement after the recently concluded T20 World Cup. After a disastrous campaign he has renegaded on his earlier commitment to retire. Not for the first time and probably not for the last time either. Afridi has retired, unretired and then retired again on numerous occasions in the past as well. His diva like approach to his retirement decisions reminds me of a big fat desi wedding.

Have you ever attended a desi wedding dear reader?

It’s one huge party where there’s lots of food, music, dance and even dance wars these days. Preparations start months before the D-day and the guest list comes out to be in the hundreds. On the wedding night, the bride and the groom are received with much fanfare. Friends and family fuss over their appearance, their food, and the people they meet and have pictures taken with. It is quite an entertaining experience, until the bride and groom decide to leave for their new home. That is when people cry! Yes, a desi wedding usually ends with tears shed for the departing bride. So, despite all the fun, the glamour, and the happy ending associated with a wedding, desi folks have found a way to add a melancholic touch to a joyous occasion. It betrays their desire to somehow hold onto the departing bride even though it’s her time to move on and start a new phase of life.

Kind of like Afridi...

So, what can the most recent change of heart be attributed to?

Apparently, Afridi now feels the fan’s pressure to carry on playing. Ironically, he does not feel the same fan pressure when they plead him to stay at the wicket longer and restrain his mad ‘hit and hole out’ approach.

Or maybe it’s just because he could not go out on his own terms. Maybe he wants to fight out this lean phase and prove his detractors wrong one more time. Maybe it’s because of the sponsors who have invested heavily in him or it’s just that his love for the game is too much. Maybe he even feels bigger than the game now or that he can’t figure out what he’ll do outside of it. Maybe he feels that he can still manage a more graceful exit, not the Imran Khan-like exit he hoped for, but a more Misbah-like nonchalant exit, appreciated, but not revered as a national hero. Non-chalant is a word hardly ever associated with Shahid Afridi. No wonder he finds it so hard to let go right now.

Truth is that there is no perfect time to retire. It is the hardest call to make, especially when you are doing well. That is when the calls for “Please stay, we need you!” are louder than the chants to go.

This, however, is not one of those times for Afridi.

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Raja is a Cricketer turned Engineer turned Cricket writer. Twitter handle: @raj_omer...

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