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  Rise and fall of Afridi
 
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13/06/11  When Pakistan reached the semifinal of World Cup 2011 last March it seemed that things were finally progressing in the right direction at least as far as the countryís cricket was concerned.

And when Pakistan took an unassailable 3-0 lead in their One-day International series against the West Indies in April even after resting a number of their senior players it seemed that a major revival was finally on the cards.

But like the best part of the last decade or so, Pakistan cricketís story had to have a bad twist.

This time, it came when Shahid Afridi fell out with the Board and decided to retire from international cricket less than two months after leading Pakistan to the World Cup last-four.

It all happened in an ugly manner with Afridi taking a swipe at the Board which in reply decided to suspend the allrounderís central contract. The Board also revoked all No Objection Certificates (NOCs) granted to Afridi thus preventing him from playing for Hampshire in the ongoing English Twenty20 tournament.

It all happened almost overnight but there were several warnings that a perfect storm was brewing within the team management.

There were murmurs of discord within the team management weeks before the World Cup got underway in February, but it was only after securing the ODI series in the Caribbean that the Pakistanis started exposing a rift that featured captain Shahid Afridi and coach Waqar Younis as its main characters.

For many who have some inside knowledge of Pakistan cricket, it was quite an open secret that Afridi and Waqar started developing differences on the tour of New Zealand that took place before the World Cup early this year. In fact, things seemed so bad at one point in time that Ijaz Butt, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman, had to rush to New Zealand to help sort out the differences between his teamís captain and coach.

Even throughout the World Cup, it was pretty evident that Afridi and Waqar werenít at the best of terms. They were seldom seen together as the Pakistanis played their World Cup games in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India.

On the surface, everything seemed fine as both of them refrained from making public their differences. The team, too, was exceeding expectations by winning against higher-rated teams like Australia and Sri Lanka.

But privately, both Afridi and Waqar talked their own talk. Both had their own plans for bringing out the best from their team during the World Cup. There wasnít any coordination between the two when it came to the post World Cup future of the team. Both of them had their own likes and dislikes and were clear about which players will be retained in the team after the World Cup. But their player lists for future rebuilding didnít really match.

The problem with both Afridi and Waqar is that they are both a bit of control freaks. The only way their partnership would have worked was if either one of them had accepted the other personís authority. That didnít happen.

In a team sport like cricket, itís very important for a captain and coach to have a good working relationship. Even if they are not the best of friends, they have to sit down together to devise strategies to tackle different oppositions and to chalk out plans to get the best out of their own players.

For Pakistan, with Waqar and Afridi performing the roles it never really happened, at least not for long.

Now there is another character in this saga. Thatís Intikhab Alam, the man who has been an integral part of Pakistan cricket for the best part of the last four decades. Intikhab was sacked as coach after Pakistanís disastrous tour of Australia in 2009-10 but the former Pakistan captain didnít waste time in staging a comeback as the national teamís manager.

On tours, the soft-spoken ĎInti bhaií as he is known among the national players, serves as the eyes and ears of Ijaz Butt. He is Buttís man in the team and the PCB chief mostly acts on whatever advice the seasoned manager sends to him.

In a remarkable balancing act, Intikhab managed to keep good relations with both Afridi and Waqar at least till the tour of West Indies where it became clear to him that he will have to side with either of the two.

The fourth character in the latest controversy to rock Pakistan cricket is Ijaz Butt. The former Pakistan Test cricketer has happily played the villainís role in almost every controversy related to Pakistan cricket since taking over as PCB chief in 2008.

The thing is both Afridi and Waqar were handpicked by Butt for two of the most important jobs in Pakistan cricket. During the Caribbean sojourn, it became clear that the Board will have to make a choice between Afridi and Waqar.

As Pakistan captain, Afridi had earned a lot of accolades for leading a team weakened by a series of scandals and bans into the World Cup semifinals. His personal performance as one of the tournamentís most successful bowlers also added to the allrounderís credentials.

Waqar on the other hand promised to deliver on a long-term basis. The legendary Test pacer had assured the Board that by taking the right steps he will help put Pakistan cricket on the right track.

Even before Afridiís outburst against the Board there were signs that the PCB balance was tilting towards Waqar. Afridi was well aware of it. As somebody who had managed to unite a bickering team, Afridi believed that he was well within his right to ask for sufficient authority as Pakistan captain. Similarly, Waqar was of the view that as the teamís coach he had the final say.

Meanwhile, the PCB was sending the duo mixed signals. My sources say that Ijaz Butt was assuring Afridi that he had the Boardís complete support. Waqar, too, was getting similar messages.

It was a disaster waiting to happen.

Pakistan cricket is hit by turmoil once again. Afridi has been dumped but he is now threatening to take Ijaz Butt and company down.

In case there is no compromise, both parties seem ready for a court battle. With its poor policies and poorer administration, shooting down PCB in such a match will be like shooting ducks in a barrel. Ijaz Butt has appointed and sacked captains, coaches and chief selectors at his whims and fancies. Under his chairmanship, Pakistan cricket has almost become a national disgrace due to one scandal after the other.

Afridi is no angel either. The Board will come out with plenty of ammunition against a player, who fell from grace early last year when he Ďchewedí on the cricket ball during a One-day International against Australia.

But there is a chance that the issue might not get any uglier than it already is.

The Board has summoned Afridi to appear before its three-man disciplinary committee next Wednesday at the PCB headquarters. Though at the moment both parties are sticking to their guns, there is a possibility that a compromise might be reached with the help of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who has vowed to resolve the issue.

The damage, however, has already been done. And as usual, Pakistan cricket is on the losing end.

PS: In case, there is a public vote to decide the fate of this case Butt will have a billion-to-one chance against Afridi -- easily the most popular cricketer in Pakistan today.
 
 
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