The saga of Shahid Afridi, like many things that define Pakistan cricket, could still run a little longer. The man with the sledge-hammer blows may have been pushed to international retirement by his Board midway through the World Twenty20, but the skipper is still not done.
Pakistan Board chairman Shaharyar Khan had announced after the India game that Afridi will go even if he wants to stay on. On Friday, the man proved his popularity has not diminished as a few thousands turned up at the Mohali stadium to cheer for him despite the loss to Australia resulting in the team’s elimination from the tournament.
Hit and miss
However, the returns with the bat have diminished. As has often been the case with Afridi, a six off leg-spinner Adam Zampa was followed by a wild heave and miss to be stumped for 14.
For once, Afridi showed emotion as he walked back, an angry swish of the bat admission of a missed opportunity at the fag end of a career that has been on the wane for a while.
Slumped on the chair outside the dressing room as the chase against Australia subsided, there was a sense of resignation.
But Afridi had said at the toss that he was yet to take a call. “I haven’t decided, but I will take a call in front of my nation.” At the post-match presentation, he declared there was lot of media hype around him at the moment, but he would take a few days before making any announcement.
Having annoyed many in Pakistan by his Kolkata statement that he got more love in India, there was again an attempt to make amends as he thanked Pakistan fans and “fans from Kashmir” for coming to support him.
Teammate Shoaib Malik, though, didn’t seem have any doubts, saying that the team wanted to beat Australia as a fitting farewell for Afridi.
“We all know that it’s Lala’s (Afridi) last World Cup. I respect him the way I respect Inzamam bhai, Wasim (Akram) and Waqar (Younis). He is like an elder brother and I have learnt a lot from him. Nobody will be happier if we do well for him in the World Cup,” Malik said.
After Pakistan’s 21-run loss, he was the first out to greet the Australian players. There was a nice touch from opener Aaron Finch, who spoke to Afridi for a few moments.
So, will there be another twist in the tale? There are few big names in this Pakistan squad and one will have to wait what happens after Afridi returns home.
Post match, coach Waqar Younis too was careful not to commit. “As far as I know, he will address the press conference in Pakistan on his return and that is it.”
Almost two decades since he took the cricket world by storm with a 37-ball ODI century, Afridi’s connect with fans is still very strong. Will that change anything remains to be seen.