Shahid Afridi with his book, which lifts the lid on his dramatic walk out on the team.
Shahid Afridi with his book, which lifts the lid on his dramatic walk out on the team.

Sinister reason Afridi ditched Pakistan during Australia series

TIM Paine and Steve Smith played their first Tests without knowing they were bystanders to a match-fixing crisis as a famous rival walked out on the five-day game forever.

And it happened, of all places, at Lord's - the home of cricket - in 2010.

Cricket books flood our desks at such a rate some amazing stories get downplayed or overlooked, because they are outshone in the publicity stakes by bigger ones from the same work.

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Former Pakistan captain and global cult figure Shahid Afridi released his autobiography Game Changer this year and the incredible story which did not get the wide airing it deserved was how he quit the captaincy - and Test cricket - mid-series against an Australian side who did not fully realise what they were watching.

Pakistan's landslide loss to Australia at Lord's is remembered for the quirky historical fact that Smith made his debut as a leg-spinner batting No. 8 and Paine played his first Test.

Afridi remembered it for other, far more sinister, reasons.

Afridi was roundly baked for a second-innings brain snap in which he lashed out in typical fashion against Marcus North's finger spin to be caught in the deep as part of North's six-wicket haul.

But - according to Afridi - what the critics did not know was that he had sensed there was spot-fixing happening in the team and he decided to quit on the spot and fly home mid-series, never to return to Test cricket.

Shahid Afridi walks off the field during the 2010 Test against Australia at Lord’s.
Shahid Afridi walks off the field during the 2010 Test against Australia at Lord’s.

In announcing his decision, he kept the grim news a secret and blamed his own frailties.

"I've tried but I think I'm not good enough for this format,'' he told a press conference.

"You could say I am not strong enough mentally for Test cricket. Salman Butt is strong enough to carry the team.''

Indeed he was.

The regret was that Butt, as Afridi was aware, was also a shameless match fixer banned from the game for life for spot-fixing a Test against England a few months later, also at Lord's.

Butt was managed by a corrupt agent and now exposed match-fixer Mazhar Majeed, who dropped his phone in a pool and, by extreme coincidence, took it to a repair shop in England owned by a friend of Afridi, who saw the corrupt messages and told Afridi.

Afridi alerted management and told them he did not want Majeed around the team, but they took no action.

"So there I was on that cursed tour playing match after match knowing management wasn't interest in listening to me ... I started going insane really,'' Afridi wrote.

"In the middle of the match, around the fourth day, I told Salman Butt that he could take over.

"I remember exactly when I made the decision. We were at 220 for 6. Marcus North was bowling. I swept and was taken in the deep. When the ball was in the air, I had taken my decision. I was done with all of this. Yes, I shouldn't have quit my team. Yes, I should have played the second Test and not gone home.

"I retired from Test cricket. Perhaps prematurely, but I had lost faith in the whole set-up, especially because the team management wasn't proactively investigating what was happening and instead letting the entire thing slide."

It's a rousing tale of an era of Pakistan cricket where nothing was as it seemed.