Karachi. Huge-hitting Shahid Afridi makes such a noise on the field that they call him Boom Boom, but the crowd-pleaser is leaving the game quietly after clashing with Pakistan’s cricket hierarchy.
The imposing all-rounder, who bowls dangerous leg-spin and smashes sixes for fun, is widely regarded as one of limited-overs cricket’s most destructive batsmen, and Pakistan’s foremost player.
But Afridi, 31, announced his retirement late on Monday after a dispute with coach Waqar Younis that saw him stripped of the one-day captaincy, despite taking scandal-hit Pakistan to the World Cup semifinals in March.
“I play for my country and for my people,” he said.
“I led the team to the semifinal of the World Cup but the reward was such that I was not sure about my captaincy.”
Although he left the door open for a possible return — if the Pakistan Cricket Board undergoes wholesale changes — it seems likely that cricket has lost one of its most exciting and passionate talents.
The bearded Afridi, born in the Khyber Agency bordering Afghanistan, cracked the world’s fastest one-day century in his first-ever international innings, and holds the world record for one-day international sixes — 288.
In Pakistan, Afridi is so exciting and so popular that once he is out, stadiums can empty out. And uniquely, he completes the package with uncanny spin bowling and brilliant fielding.
The story starts in 1996, when Afridi, a precocious 16-year-old, hammered a 37-ball century past Kenya in his international batting debut, after not being required to bat in the series opener two days earlier.
The knock made world headlines but there was no place for Afridi in Pakistan’s powerful batting lineup as it finished World Cup runner-up to Australia three years later in 1999.
Four years later in South Africa, Afridi continued to warm the bench before things got even worse in 2007.
A month before the World Cup, he was banned for two matches on charges of threatening to hit a spectator during a one-day match in South Africa.
He ended up watching Pakistan lose to Ireland from the sidelines before getting a chance to play in an inconsequential match against Zimbabwe.
But in 2009, Afridi starred in Pakistan’s World Twenty20 win with crucial — and uncharacteristically responsible — knocks in the semifinal against South Africa and the final against Sri Lanka.
He took over as test and one-day captain last year, but abruptly retired from the five-day game after a heavy defeat against Australia at Lord’s. He later said he “sensed” the spot-fixing scandal that was to engulf the team.
“When I retired from test cricket and sensed spot-fixing in the team, I fought against it, and after the fixing episode [I] united the team, which was broken and divided,” he said on Monday.
His success in galvanizing the squad could be seen at this year’s World Cup, when he led Pakistan to the semifinals only to be beaten by eventual champion India.
But after the tournament he publicly criticized Younis over his interference in team selection, prompting his replacement as one-day skipper by test captain Misbah-ul-Haq.
According to former captain Imran Khan, Afridi has shown unique motivational skills, along with his well-documented batting and bowling exploits.
“Afridi is the only man who can motivate and unite the team,” Khan, a World Cup-winning skipper in 1992, said during this year’s tournament. “He can win matches single-handedly.”
Wasim Akram, Pakistan’s captain during the 1999 World Cup, highlighted Afridi’s resilience as one of his greatest assets.
“It’s remarkable that his best comes when the going gets tough,” Akram said.
Afridi scored 6,695 runs in 325 one-dayers and took 315 wickets as a leg-spinner. He has a tally of 1,716 runs and 48 wickets in 27 tests.