Afridi eager to dismiss doubts
Shahid Afridi will be out to prove a point to Pakistan's selectors that his sell-by date is still years away when he walks out for the first international Twenty20 match on local soil on the opening day of the Karp Group Hong Kong Sixes today.
The former Pakistan captain said last week that he was keen to get back into the one-day and Twenty20 team after Zaka Ashraf was appointed earlier this month as the new president of the Pakistan Cricket Board. It cleared the last obstacle for Afridi, who had differences with former incumbent president Ijaz Butt.
Afridi, one of Pakistan's greatest limited-overs players, was dumped as captain after leading the team to a successful series win over the West Indies in the Caribbean in May.
He then sidelined himself from international cricket, announcing a conditional retirement, saying he would only return if there was change at the top. That change has occurred.
'I feel I still have a lot to offer my country in the limited overs format,' Afridi said. 'The reasons why I left have been well documented, but it's time to move on and look to the future and I think the future is bright.'
This weekend could play a pivotal part in the 31-year-old's hopes of extending an illustrious career, which included a key role in winning the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup, and progressing to the semi-finals of this year's (50 overs) World Cup.
It is understood that the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ashraf will be around at the Kowloon Cricket Club, getting a first-hand look at Afridi who will turn out for the Woodworm All Stars in the expanded 12-team tournament.
But first up will be the Twenty20 between the All Stars - Hong Kong 19-year-old Babar Hayat will also turn out for them - and the Rest of the World team led by Pakistan's Abdul Razzaq. This will be another twist to the tale, two former Pakistan all-rounders coming head to head.
'We are both very competitive individuals and it's always good to play with, or against Razzaq. May the best team win,' said the combative Afridi who has taken 315 ODI wickets and 53 Twenty20 scalps with his wily leg spinners.
While Afridi will be intent on making a statement, there will be a number of other interesting face-offs in this inaugural T20 fixture with New Zealanders Jacob Oram and James Franklin coming face-to-face with former teammate and All Stars' Lou Vincent. Another intriguing battle will be between Indian captain Dinesh Karthik and compatriots all-rounder Piyush Chawla and seamer R.P. Singh who turn out for the All Stars.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Karthik, who has played 23 tests and 52 one-day internationals for India, has thrown his weight behind the first international Twenty20 match in Hong Kong, saying it will be a great attraction for the spectators.
'Adding a T20 to the Hong Kong Sixes is a great inclusion. Twenty20 is obviously a very popular format with IPL being so big worldwide. It will give a different point of view for the crowd and I think it will be great for the spectators. For the players, it will be a fun way to start the tournament,' said Karthik who plays in the Indian Premier League for Kings XI Punjab.