What should a captain do when a board no one trusts won’t talk to him, but warns him against talking to anyone else?
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Ijaz Butt is yet to reveal why Shahid Afridi, ODI captain since the 2010 Asia Cup, was sacked after leading the team to two back-to-back ODI series wins, as well as to the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup. But it is becoming clear now that Afridi’s ouster was not a spur-of-the-moment decision and in fact the wheels had been set in motion way back before the recently concluded tour of the Caribbean.
Let’s look at what happened on the West Indies tour. Afridi had initially opted out of the West Indies tour, saying he needed a break and wanted to spend time with his family, but was eventually convinced by his father to go ahead. Pakistan started well, taking an unassailable lead of 3-0 in the five-match series, but lost the last two matches to a depleted West Indies side (though it was a tour of new faces for Pakistan as well). Afridi’s own performance was flat – he averaged just over 9 with the bat and 84.50 with the ball. There were reports that Afridi clashed with the rest of the tour selection committee (the coach Waqar Younis, vice-captain Misbah-ul-Haq and manager Intikhab Alam) over the selection of the final XI for the last two games. On his return to Pakistan, Afridi made the following comment in response to a query about said issues:
“Although the differences in team management are not such which could not be solved; I feel everyone should do his job and need not interfere in others' work.”
Reacting to this explosive (sic) comment, PCB officials admitted that there were “long-standing issues” over selection matters but hoped they would be resolved when Afridi met the chairman. That meeting never took place, and the PCB sent Afridi a notice demanding an explanation for comments it believed were against the board’s Code of Conduct. Afridi replied to the board’s notice, downplayed the issue in the media and also called Butt and got assurances from him before leaving for a personal/fundraising tour of the US. Butt sacked Afridi as ODI captain while he was in the middle of his tour of the US. Afridi heard about it in the news, and after returning from the US, decided to quit in international cricket in protest against the current PCB administration.
We also know now that PCB selector Mohammad Ilyas and Shahid Afridi don’t get along, thanks to an ugly war of words between the two that’s being played out in the media. Ilyas, better-known as the father-in-law of discarded Test opener Imran Farhat, was himself an opening batsman and leg-spinner. The media “debates” between Afridi and Ilyas took on an ugly tone these past few days, which is regrettable, but some of the revelations that have come through them are startling.
Afridi accused Ilyas of chumming up to Butt and conspiring against him. Ilyas, in response, agreed that he is close to Butt and called upon Afridi to show some respect to the board that has, in Ilyas’ words, stood by him through many controversies. Ilyas also admitted – nay, boasted – that he refused to sign off on Afridi’s name being included in the squad for the tour of the West Indies because he felt that Afridi was “not fit and wouldn’t do well on those pitches”. Think about this for a second. When the selection for the West Indies tour was being deliberated upon, Afridi had just returned from leading Pakistan to the semi-final of the World Cup in which he was the leading wicket-taker. And here you have a national selector who wanted to drop him from the team for the very next tour. Forget the captaincy! No matter how big a critic of Afridi one may be, he did not deserve to be dropped from the squad on the back of that World Cup performance. An even more damning revelation to emerge from this exchange has been that Ilyas was the selector that the team’s then Security Manager, Colonel Najam, reported seeing with Mazhar Majeed in a cricketer’s room on the tour of England at a time when the players had been specifically told not to meet Majeed. It was also hinted that this might have been the reason Najam was fired, albeit belatedly (after the Zulqarnain Haider incident) from his role. The said report by Colonel Najam was submitted after the England tour, and no selectors have been investigated, let alone removed, since.
If you want to dig a little deeper, we can explore Afridi’s history as captain. He said he’s known of a conspiracy against him since the England tour, but I suspect he would have sensed it even earlier.
His first tournament as ODI captain was the Asia Cup in which Mohammad Amir was investigated for being on the phone in the dressing room – incidentally during a spectacular collapse the scorecard of which reads like Afridi was playing some other match. Kamran Akmal and Salman Butt were subsequently asked by the ACSU to submit their phone records. In an interview to Geo TV after Pakistan were booted out of the tournament, Afridi stressed that discipline was his primary concern and he would not tolerate any violations, a threat that we now know fell on deaf ears. Thanks to NOTW and Mazhar Majeed as well as Salman Butt’s post-ban TV punditry, we now know that the same players – convicted by an ACSU tribunal for spot-fixing – hated Afridi and wanted him to be removed. It was also reported that Afridi formally called a meeting with Waqar and then-manager Yawar Saeed to alert them about his suspicions regarding Majeed, telling the players to stay away from him.