ICC World T20 - Men
Afridi leads the way in race to 100
Top four wicket-takers in T20 international history facing uncertain future ahead of World T20
26 February 2016, 04:00 PM AEST
The race to become the first man in history to take 100 Twenty20 international wickets has taken a turn, with an uncertain future surrounding the four most prolific bowlers in the short history of the T20 format.
Pakistan allrounder Shahid Afridi currently leads to race to 100 with 91 career wickets, with the top three rounded out by countrymen Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal, who have both taken 85 wickets. Sri Lankan speedster Laith Malinga is fourth on the list with 78.
Interestingly, both Gul and Ajmal have been left out of Pakistan's squad for the upcoming ICC World T20 in India, while Afridi and Malinga have strongly indicated that the tournament may be their swansong at international level.
Quick Single: Pakistan make two changes to World T20 squad
Following last year’s 50-over Cricket World Cup, Afridi announced that the World T20 would be his final appearance in Pakistan colours, but he's recently said that those close to him have asked him to reconsider.
"I'm not saying that (I’ll continue playing after the World T20)," Afridi told ESPNCricinfo this week.
"I am saying there is a lot of pressure on me that I shouldn't retire from T20. That I can play on, and as such there is no real talent coming through in Pakistan whose place I am taking.
"For a while now there is a lot of pressure from my family, a lot of pressure from my friends, including my elders, who say there is no need for me to retire from Twenty20. That is a huge pressure.
"For now, in truth, I am focusing only on the World Cup. That is a huge challenge for me."
Quick Single: Finch ready to fight for World T20 opener's berth
Fitness and selection permitting, Afridi will have four and possibly five matches in the current Asia Cup and then at least four games in the World T20 to take the nine wickets he needs to reach 100.
If Pakistan fail to qualify for the semi-finals of the World T20 - a distinct possiblity given they are pooled with India, Australia, New Zealand and a qualifier in a tricky Group 2 - they would only play four matches in the tournament.
The veteran averages just one wicket per match during his career, however he has a knack of running through opposition batting line-ups with his quick leg-breaks and clever changes of pace. And with pitches in Bangladesh and India expected to favour spin bowling, the 35-year-old is every chance of achieving the feat first whether or not the tournament is his last appearance for Pakistan.
Despite their excellent T20 records, Gul and Ajmal will not be joining Afridi in India.
The 31-year-old Gul was a key part of Pakistan’s 2009 World T20-winning side, taking a remarkable 5-6 against New Zealand during the group stage, but the quick has been battling form and fitness issues in recent years.
As a former No.1 ranked T20 bowler, mystery spinner Ajmal was also a key part of that 2009 Pakistan bowling attack but after being banned for a suspect bowling action in 2014, he has struggled to replicate the form that made him such a dangerous international bowler.
Malinga, another short-form trailblazer, strongly indicated overnight that he may also bow out of international cricket after the World T20.
The slinger has battled injuries in recent years and suggested the amount of time required for him to recover from his various ailments doesn’t suit the demands of international cricket.
"I think if now I have an injury, it is hard to get rest," he said. "If I take rest for a year or more, that's the end of my career.
"If I need to play for my country, I have to play tough cricket in the last few months or years. I don't think I can fully recover from this injury but I try to manage this in future.
"I don't know how many months or years I will play. (At the) end of my career, I try to play maximum number of games for my national team or in the IPL. I want to play as long as possible, and at my best."
Quick Single: 2016 World T20 squads list
Aside from Malinga and Afridi, the only other top-10 leading T20I wicket takers playing in the World T20 are South African quick Dale Steyn (55 wickets), New Zealand off-spinner Nathan McCullum (55) and Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan (51).
It all means the race to 100 might have some more twists to come yet.
Most wickets in T20 internationals
91 - Shahid Afridi (Pakistan)
85 - Umar Gul (Pakistan)
85 - Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan)
78 - Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka)
66 - Ajantha Mendis (Sri Lanka)
65 - Stuart Broad (England)
55 - Dale Steyn (South Africa)
55 - Nathan McCullum (New Zealand)
51 - Graeme Swann (England)
51 - Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh)