This blog has frequently supported Shahid Afridi for his relatively uncontroversial cricket career, passionate attitude to the game and positive gameplay. Afridi is also an under rated cricketer because his batting is often disproportionately criticised whereas his bowling and fielding are conveniently disregarded. Afridi is also unique in the list of superstars to have played for Pakistan because he has never been accused of match fixing, an act which has caused Pakistan the most disgrace around the world when it comes to cricket.
Inzamam ul Haq left behind future hopefuls like Shoaib Malik, Misbah and K Akmal who are negative players and whose gameplay is so detrimental to the team that they are or have been under the ICC or PCB scanner. Misbah is never directly been accused of match fixing, but he has appeared to single handedly lose Pakistan matches a few times and this raises suspicion in the minds of the fans. A player has to be pretty pathetic for fans to suspect possible match fixing especially when there has been no direct evidence presented against the player. When Shahid Afridi’s bowling improved from 2007 onwards he should have immediately been appointed captain, as he was the only one with the leadership qualities at that time.
Shahid Afridi has transformed into something of a predictable disappointment for his fans. Afridi was the straight talking, principle endorsing character amongst his conspiring, scheming colleagues, but now Afridi has lost much of his credibility. In fact, even though a few thousand people in Karachi received him at the airport upon his return to Pakistan recently, a lot of the cricketers like Imran Khan offered measly support to him. This was an issue that could have united the nation, and the public could have appeared on the streets to protest against Ijaz Butt. Javed A Khan commented that the public in Pakistan is already demoralised because of poverty and lawlessness, and therefore does not have the will to make hue and cry about this cricket issue. However, if Afridi had been more tactful and had stuck to his principles, I am very sure he would have garnered more public support.
As far as I remember, it all started from the IPL, when Afridi expressed his desire to play despite Pakistan being humiliated at an IPL auction. Later, Afridi reportedly changed his statement. However, in the subsequent IPL competition he again expressed his desire to play.
He then decided he would not play Test cricket. The reason why this was shocking was because he has a decent record in Tests and due to the match losing presence of Malik, Misbah and K Akmal, Pakistan desperately needed a positive and attacking player. This was an extremely stupid move by Afridi and received widespread criticism. He claims he does not have the temperament, but in truth he must be afraid of the repercussions if he cannot perform- simply because in Tests, a batsman’s wicket has a much higher price than in limited overs cricket?
In the World Cup Afridi decided to take advice from people like Imran Khan and Wasim Akram. Again this was questionable because, Afridi has his own style and he can never be like Imran Khan. And frankly, why does he ask Wasim Akram things? How can an honest and upright player even consider having this kind of relationship with Wasim Akram? In the past Afridi also took advice from the dull Inzamam- you can see it couldn’t change Afridi’s batting.
Then it was Afridi’s verbal stupidities. He changed the style of speaking English and started using “a” before everything such as “a confidence”. On a Pakistani tv show he blurted that Pakistanis have bigger hearts than Indians which did not go down brilliantly with the Pakistan government because it had just commenced a new chapter in cricket diplomacy with India. And then following his removal as captain by the PCB, he blamed some Punjab/Lahori group for conspiring against him. Whether these statements are true or false, they have done irreversible damage. Afridi has lost most of his fan base in Punjab and as Punjab is Pakistan’s most populous and influential province, it will be difficult for Afridi to firstly come back into the team and be accepted again by his team mates and administration but secondly, to be reinstated as captain.
Afridi spoke about principles upon his return to Pakistan; he claimed that Pakistan cricket was on the road to destruction under this administration. He asked the President to rescue cricket in the country. This was miscalculated by Afridi, as he should have realised that he needed to appeal to the public to create a revolution. However, Afridi has now accepted that what he wanted was to play county cricket in England and the Sri Lanka Premier League.
Only someone like Shahid Afridi could have persuaded the public to come out on the streets and remove Ijaz Butt, but he chose money and short term goals rather than principles. Ijaz Butt is not going any time soon, and what Afridi does not realise is that between now and then, someone new might take his place in the team.
Without Afridi there is no match winner in the team- does he even realise this?
This issue has caused incalculable damage to Pakistan and Pakistan cricket. People will say Afridi “chickened out” and he will quickly lose support from fans. Afridi will say he was under political pressure to accept his mistake, however, a principled man would not have chosen to succumb to politics and money. If Afridi had not complained about Punjab, and if he had not chickened out in this manner, I am sure Ijaz Butt would have been forced to reinstate him as captain after a few months. There is no point in saying here that what Afridi said about Punjab, or India, was right in principle. You can’t pick and choose which principles you want to follow and which you want to abandon. If you think the Indian government, public, media has smaller hearts and holds a grudge against Pakistan, don’t express your desire to play in IPL. Similarly, if you think the PCB management is corrupt or biased, don’t drop to your knees in front of them to satisfy your short term goals.
Because a person who does that becomes a politician, and loses his principles. Afridi was seen by his fans to be the alternative to the politicians in the cricket team, but Afridi seems to have become just like them.