Butt faces biggest challenge in face of Afridi's retirement

Ijaz Butt pictured during an ICC executive meet Getty Images

Karachi: May 31, 2011

Shahid Afridi’s stunning retirement to protest his sacking as Pakistan’s ODI captain could be the toughest test of PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt’s tenure so far but he is unlikely to go back on his decision.

“At the end of the day Butt is a tough nut to crack and he has shown he can withstand media, public and government pressure,” a PCB official said.

“But what he has to decide is whether to make Afridi an example or ease him back into the team and heal the wounds. Eventually it all boils down to how soon this controversy dies down in Pakistan cricket,” he added.

Afridi took everyone by surprise last night when he announced, he was retiring from international cricket as he could not play under the present board set up which didn’t respect players and had some “disgraceful” people.

Afridi’s decision to retire came few days after Butt had sacked him as captain of the national one-day team before the series against Ireland and replaced him with Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq who led the team to a 2-0 series win over Ireland.

The board gave no official reason for removing Afridi especially after he led the team to the World Cup semi-finals and also to a series win in the West Indies although unofficially it was confirmed that Butt acted on a report from manager Intikhab Alam from the West Indies.

The word is that a report was sought from the manager after reported differences between the captain and head coach, Waqar Younis on many issues including selection of teams and Intikhab informed the board that Afridi was at fault in the entire episode.

But now the flamboyant all-rounder has thrown the ball into the PCB court with his strong comments in which he also blamed a lobby in the board of working against him.

“Butt now has to come out with a clear statement and policy on this whole issue. He can’t just diffuse the situation by meeting with Afridi, Waqar and Intikhab and sorting out their differences and laying down their job descriptions,” one official source in the board said.

“The way Afridi has attacked the board it is in clear violation of the code of conduct. Butt now has to decide what to do next as this issue is a direct threat to his authority and his philosophy that players cannot be allowed to dictate terms in the team. But at the same time, I don’t think he has dealt with any player so far who is as popular with the people as Afridi is,” the source said.

Former captain Zaheer Abbas agreed that the Afridi incident was a test case for the board.

“The board has in the past come down hard on other players for indiscipline and other issues. Keep in mind that Younis Khan was kept out of the team for eight months, Yousuf is gone while Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal and Danish Kaneria are also no longer part of the team,” Zaheer said.

Sources say that while Afridi had some genuine reasons to feel aggrieved as the Chairman didn’t take him into confidence while stripping him of the captaincy but he was also at fault in many ways.

“It is a case of things coming back to haunt you. First he has refused to stop this habit of too much interaction with the media and Afridi played an part in creating circumstances that led to the forced or voluntarily ouster of Malik, Younis Khan, Muhammad Yousuf and finally Salman Butt as captains in the last two years,” a source said.

“He has been a bit of a manipulator in the team and today he has been ousted as captain because there is a lobby in the team that supports Waqar Younis,” the source added.

A board official, on condition of anonymity, said the board was considering issuing him a fresh show-cause notice and also reviewing the NOC’s issued to Afridi to play in England and Sri Lankan Twenty20 leagues.

“We will take a decision today but clearly he has left us little options with his outburst for which he will have to eventually apologise,” he added.

From a cricketing point of view, the board has to decide whether it will make a difference to the Pakistan team if Afridi is in the team or not.

Because while he has played a motivational role as captain in recent months to lift a scandal-ridden team but his own performances have been inconsistent.

He took 21 wickets in the World Cup but failed with the bat while in the West Indies he struggled with both bat and ball.

His career figures of 315 wickets in 325 ODIs with a batting average of 23.49 show his inconsistent nature as a performer but his supporters are likely to point out his strike rate of 113 in ODIs and his inspirational influence on the field in any role.