Shahid Afridi has finally bowed to the inevitable and publicly bid adieu to international cricket, over 20 years after making his debut for Pakistan. Afridi said goodbye in fitting fashion as well, after a 28-ball 54 for Peshawar Zalmi that nearly pulled off a remarkable chase against Karachi Kings in the ongoing PSL.
In a sense Afridi was only adding the full stop to what has become a reality over the last year: he led Pakistan to the World T20 in India last year, stepped down as captain after it and though he didn’t retire, he was omitted from the two T20 squads Pakistan have picked since, for a one-off against England and a three-game series with West Indies.
The issue of his not announcing his retirement, in fact, had become a prickly one. Last year, the PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan, said he had reached an agreement with Afridi that he would step down after the World T20. “He is also a Pathan and I am also a Pathan and once the agreement is done between two Pathans it can’t be changed.”
However, before the tournament and during the inaugural PSL, Afridi revealed that he was reconsidering his retirement. So once he didn’t announce his retirement after the World T20, a new selection committee under Inzamam-ul-Haq simply stopped picking him. For a while Afridi hinted at wanting a farewell match, or series, so that he can leave the game “on a high” and “gracefully”. That, however, didn’t pan out and it would seem now that Afridi has put the matter to rest.
“I have said goodbye to international cricket,” Afridi said in Sharjah. “I am playing for my fans and will continue to play this league for another two years but it’s goodbye from international cricket. Now my foundation is important for me. I have played with seriousness and in a professional way for my country.”
On form alone the decision would seem to make sense. He has been a slightly less luminous figure at the PSL this season than the last – for one, he relinquished the captaincy to Darren Sammy before the season began. He has, after six matches, only one wicket this season, though his economy rate has been good. His 54 against Karachi was his first PSL fifty in 16 matches.
It also completes a three-phased retirement from the international arena. Afridi retired from Test cricket in 2010, although that Test itself was the first he had played in four years – after he had announced and revoked his Test retirement first in 2006. But the first sign that a real end was near came with his retirement from ODIs, after the 2015 World Cup. It was in that format that he really made a name for himself, beginning with the 37-ball 100 against Sri Lanka in only his second ODI in October 1996.
It was in the shortest format, however, that he found greatest glory. He was an instrumental part of Pakistan’s early successes in the format. He was player of the tournament in the first World T20 in 2007, in which Pakistan lost narrowly to India in the final. And he was the central performer when they went one better in the 2009 World T20 in England. It was around his stunning catch in a game against New Zealand that Pakistan’s tournament pivoted. And for composure, control and timely impact, he has never bettered his all-round performances in the semi-final and final of that event.
Such was his proficiency in those early years of the format that even as he calls time now, he leaves as the highest T20I wicket-taker, just three short of 100 wickets. And nobody has played more than his 98 T20Is.
Time, however, eventually caught up with him, and Pakistan. He oversaw a poor campaign at last year’s World T20, in which Pakistan looked like a team from an older era, losing three of their four games. Since his last T20I for Pakistan, against Australia in Mohali in March 2016, Afridi has been playing in T20 competitions around the world: for Hampshire in the NatWest T20 Blast, Islamabad in Pakistan’s National T20 Cup, Rangpur Riders in the BPL, and Peshawar Zalmi in the PSL.