Shahid Afridi’s bonkers last Test is the only way his red-ball career could have ended
Shahid Afridi is, for many reasons, an extraordinary cricketer. A leg-spinning biffer who played with an approach years ahead of his time, the former Pakistan skipper’s international career spanned 22 years.
Given his reputation as an explosive batsman whose recklessness was noteworthy even in white-ball cricket, Afridi boasts as surprisingly good Test record in a stop-start international red-ball career that spanned more than a decade.
As a teenager, he scored 141 in the third innings opening the batting in one of the all-time great Tests against India in Chennai. In a reasonably low-scoring affair – neither side passed 300 in the Test – Afridi registered the highest score of the game. The only other hundred was scored by Sachin Tendulkar, a knock widely regarded as one of his best in Test cricket.
Afridi’s final appearance in Test cricket is more in line with his reputation, almost comically so. The fiery all-rounder was installed as Pakistan Test skipper for their two-Test series against Australia that was played in England, despite not having played the longest format for four years and never captained in Tests before that series.
Afridi won the toss and inserted Australia in, a decision that paid off reasonably well as Australia were bowled out for 253, thanks in part to a four-for from wonderkid Mohammad Amir. Afridi did not find quite as much success as his teammates as his three overs were sent for 25 runs – a poor economy rate even in T20 cricket.
Pakistan struggled in reply and Afridi strolled to the crease with his side in a spot of bother on 83-5. In overcast conditions, Afridi blasted a 15-ball 31, including two sixes, but his 13-minute stay at the crease did little to shift the momentum back towards Pakistan. They were soon bowled out for 148.
Afridi fared better with the ball second time around, taking 1-44 from 14 overs as Australia left Pakistan an imposing, improbable target of 440 but for a while, they made a decent fist of it. Starts from all of Pakistan’s top six, including a 92 from Salman Butt, took Pakistan to 152-1, 186-2, 216-3 and 227-4. When Afridi came to the crease Pakistan still needed more than 200 to win, so the result was still possible if unlikely.
Afridi, in typical style, attempted to pummel his sixth ball into the Grandstand, gifting part-time offie Marcus North a wicket that effectively killed off Pakistan’s chances.
After the Test, Afridi announced that he would retire from the format after the series finale, which he ended up missing due to injury. His announcement displayed admirable degrees of self-awareness and honesty. “With my temperament I can’t play Test cricket,” said Afridi. “I wasn’t interested in playing Test cricket but the board asked me to go and take a look as they didn’t have a choice. So I took up the responsibility. They asked me to take a chance and may be I would enjoy it. But I wasn’t really enjoying Test cricket but I tried. I wasn’t good enough. A captain should lead by example which I did not. And if I played the way I played in this match it is better to leave.”
On what proved to be his last shot in Test cricket, that ugly hoick off North, he added: “I am coming back to Test cricket after four years and in the interim I’d played a lot of ODI and Twenty20 cricket so I came in with the same [attacking] temperament. I was in two minds. You can say I was not strong mentally.”
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