Shaheen Afridi decides to focus on T20s rather than Tests

The Pakistani fast bowler took a break after the third Test match against Australia to prepare for the T20 series against New Zealand.

Pakistan’s decision to rest Shaheen Afridi for the third Test against Australia in Sydney has intensified discussions about players’ preference for a longer, more traditional format of cricket. Afridi has been dropped from the squad to reduce workload ahead of the upcoming five-match T20 series against New Zealand starting January 12. It comes shortly after South Africa announced their second team for the two-Test series in New Zealand in February, overlapping with their own domestic T20 tournament SA20.

Managing players’ workload has become a common practice in world cricket, but it is common to take a break from white-ball matches to focus on Tests, considered the most classic format of the game. Afridi became the first player in Pakistan’s history to take time off from Tests while continuing to play in T20, where he captains Pakistan and also represents Lahore Qalandars in the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

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Reasons for the decline in interest in Test cricket

The record of Afridi’s Test cricket career has changed markedly since he was named captain of the Pakistan T20 team in November. Provided he is fit enough, the 23-year-old is expected to feature in most of the 16 matches Pakistan will play before the T20 World Cup in June. During this time, he also signed a contract to play in the PSL and play a few matches for the Desert Vipers in the ILT20 in the UAE. Despite the fact that such decisions are made taking into account the recommendations of the team management, the players themselves have their own opinions. When the management tried to rest Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan from the T20, both refused.

Player interest in Test cricket outside the traditional countries of Australia, England and India is waning due to attractive offers in franchise cricket. Afridi’s decision to take time off from Tests does not appear to be an isolated incident and with no plans for the next Test tour in Pakistan in the foreseeable future, it is possible that he will play his last Test in Australia. By the time of Pakistan’s next tour, when Afridi will be in his late thirties, he is likely to focus on the T20 format.

Another Pakistani left-arm spinner, Mohammad Amir, made a similar decision in 2019, leaving the Test format at the age of 27. As a three-format bowler, he also faced challenges managing his playing load, and a year before retiring from Tests, he declared: “I’m a man, not a machine.” Afridi’s workload is even higher than Amir’s. He also dealt with a knee injury in 2022 which forced him to miss almost six months, including five home Tests. Last year he played 62 matches (First-class, List A and T20s). Among the eight fast bowlers who have played over 50 matches in 2023, only he and Alzarri Joseph have been regulars in the Test format.

Is it all about fees?

Over the past five years, Afridi has been highly active in world cricket, bowling 1432.4 overs in international matches, ranking him fourth in the rankings. He has also bowled 409.5 overs in various T20 leagues (PSL, T20 Blast, The Hundred) as well as Tests in England. Players who are ahead of him in terms of caps (Pat Cummins, Tim Southee, Mitchell Starc) are either taking a break from playing or are not under the pressure of contracts in other leagues, unlike Afridi.

Test match fees for England players are approximately US$19,000, for India US$18,000 and for Australia approximately US$12,000. However, Pakistani players are paid 12,579.75 rupees (approximately $4,500). Pakistan plans to play seven Test matches in 2024. Even if Afridi had featured in all of them, his earnings would have been only $31,500, far less than his $220,000 earnings including commercial support from Lahore Qalandars in the PSL.

The incentive to become an all-rounder in Pakistan is limited. Even though Afridi was named the best ICC cricketer two years ago, the benefits of his monthly fee for playing for Pakistan are only $5,000 different from those of Test match specialists such as Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman or Haris Rauf. For Afridi, the value of four overs in franchise games is five times his value in Test matches. Almost every upcoming cricketer in Pakistan is aiming for T20 success and wants lucrative contracts in franchise cricket. Unless Pakistan adds value to Test cricket, the trend will continue.

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