Karachi: There was a time when Shahid Afridi's name would have been the first on Pakistan's one-day international team-sheet, but the allrounder's future looks uncertain after he was dropped for this month's series against arch-rivals India.
The 32-year-old has endured a dreadful run of form, scoring just 85 runs in his last 10 ODI innings, prompting selectors to axe him from the 15-man squad for the three-game series starting later this month. While Afridi has retained his spot for the two Twenty20 matches, the warning bells are ringing for the man whose dismissal has often emptied the stands in the past.
In his 349 ODIs Afridi has taken 348 wickets and scored 7,075 runs – at an electric strike rate of nearly 114 runs per 100 balls – but he has not scored a half-century in his last 10 innings, a slump former England great Geoffrey Boycott has called embarrassing. "Pakistan have lost out with his batting deteriorating so badly," Boycott told Cricinfo recently. "In the early days when he was playing and batting well, he tended to believe his own publicity. People wanted him to hit big sixes, everybody was raving for him, and he kept trying to oblige."
But former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif insisted Afridi, Pakistan's third most-capped one-day player of all time, could still make a comeback. "Afridi is facing tough times. Even a player like Ricky Ponting had to quit after he failed to score big," said Latif of the former Australian captain who retired earlier this month. "But Pakistan is different in the way that a player can stage a comeback after a good performance and Afridi can still do so."
Another former captain, Moin Khan, described Afridi's axing as unjust. "Afridi is an impact player," said Khan. "He holds a psychological dominance over India so he should have been included.”
Afridi burst onto the international stage in 1996 when aged just 16 he smashed a 37-ball century – still an ODI record – against Sri Lanka in only his second match, and his explosive batting style earned him the nickname "Boom Boom". The shortest form of the game brought more fame for Afridi as he starred in Pakistan's World Twenty20 triumph in England in 2009, helping the team with both bat and ball.
The performance elevated him to the captaincy the following year and he led Pakistan to the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup but differences with coach Waqar Younis and then Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ijaz Butt almost ended his career prematurely. His form suffered and at this year's T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka in September-October he was a shadow of the player he once was, scratching and groping for runs where once he smashed the ball to all corners.
Afridi admitted he was not up to expectations but vowed to fight on. "I am disappointed at not being able to live up to the expectations but every cricketer goes through such a time. I am not one to run away from challenges as I am a fighter and I will come back," Afridi said in October.
Despite all the disappointments and frustrations of the past few years, there are still some in Pakistan who believe – or at least hope – he can manage one last stand.