Shahid Afridi looks set to retire after the T20 World Cup, and it might not have anything to do with his love for India.
The Pakistan Cricket Board said on Monday the 36-year-old all-rounder will not be retained as skipper, irrespective of the team’s performance in the remaining part of the tournament.
Afridi is not known for ducking into a bouncer, and it’s likely that he will soon make an announcement about hanging up his boots.
But in that case history will remember the ‘Boom Boom’ man as the one who went down after a dismal campaign on Indian soil despite all the love he claimed to have received in the neighbouring country.
The Pakistan board’s move to oust Afridi from the top job and indications that his career is ending might be based on pure cricketing reasons — the defeat to India at Eden Gardens was humiliating as the green brigade lost another ‘mauka (chance)’.
But fans will go beyond that and see Afridi’s fall from the prism of political incorrectness, which set the tone of brotherhood in India but peeved fans in Pakistan.
“The board is...not happy with the media statements of Afridi and believe it is time to move on,” a Pakistani official was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
The official did not elaborate, but the reference is unmistakable.
“There is clear discontent in the board about Afridi and his performances and captaincy,” he said.
After arriving in India to participate in the T20 tournament, Afridi said he will always remember the love he received in the country.
“We have not got this much love even from Pakistan,” he said, in remarks that triggered a storm in his country and prompted ex-cricketer Javed Miandad to criticise him.
And Pakistan’s decision not to retain Afridi irrespective of what happens next comes against this backdrop.
It’s not that Pakistan have never lost to India in a T20 World Cup - in fact, the Men in Blue have trumped their arch-rivals in all WC matches, irrespective of the format.
It’s not that this is the first time there is outrage among fans in Pakistan over a loss to India. In both countries, smashing TV sets and burning effigies of players after a defeat is a routine.
But Afridi’s case is exceptional: he faces criticism for on-field performance and wrath for off-field comments that have sentimental values.
In the long history of rivalry between the two countries, this is apparently the first incident of a player of Afridi’s stature hurting the sentiments of Pakistani fans by drawing a comparison with Indian cricket lovers.
For Pakistan, a country that has fought three wars with India, it was nothing but a bombshell. And Afridi’s boys failing to perform did not contribute to Pakistan’s nationalism fervour in the T20 war.
Now, Pakistan can have its own debate on freedom of speech and intolerance of fans who felt betrayed by Afridi. But the onus is on the skipper, who has an illustrious career, to fight for himself.
In the complicated narrative of India vs Pakistan - be it on the cricket field or in the battlefield - the search is always on for the heroes and the villains.
Afridi won’t like to retire as a hero in India and a villain in Pakistan, and the man of many returns will look for the final redemption - a miracle story for his country.
Afridi deserves poetic justice, and not the ending of a Greek tragedy. The fate of his captaincy is clear, but his intentions as a player are not.
He has a chance to exit like a hero, standing tall and making the last strides count in a lush field amid the chants of a hysteric crowd.
All’s well that ends well, they say. And Afridi knows that.