Pakistan

ICYMI – February Flashback

 

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

RETIRING IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

The day was coming, you would think. Given the increasing relevance of social media in cricket today, it was about time some player used Twitter or Facebook for something other than copy-pasting philosophical quotes and informing us what food they “smashed” recently. Kiwi batsman and pioneer freelance cricketer Lou Vincent drew curtains on a very unfulfilled career by  tweeting the ‘only’ useful stats us cricket fans are interested in and informed his followers about his decision. While scoring a century on debut in Perth against the likes of McGrath, Lee and Warner will remain as the highlight of his career, using all of his allotted 140 characters to tweet his retirement is no less feat.

“This is the face of ruthlessness. Fear me.”

FROM KING OF SPAIN TO RUTHLESS COACH OF ENGLAND  

England’s newest cricket coach, albeit only in the limited-overs version, Ashley Giles has made a promise to maintain a stiff upper lip while it comes to choosing the right combination of players for the Champions Trophy in June. With the success of their new star Joe Root, England are in a dilemma as to which player to leave out of their top order – KP, Trott, Bell, Morgan, Root. This is complicated by the fact that Trott and Bell are former team-mates of Giles at Warwickshire. My advice to Giles would be to ask himself the question – ‘What Would Dhoni Do’. Then go ahead and pick a combination that no expert will be able to understand. Also pick more Warwickshire players in the squad.

“Ineffective? Gulity as charged. You got me!”

THE CONTRASTING FORTUNES OF SINGH AND SUPER KINGS

MS Dhoni had a dream test at his second home, as India packed off the Aussies in the first test. He scored a double century and his spinners sealed the fate of Clarke and company. Dhoni, Ashwin and Jadeja rose to the occasion at a ground they should be knowing very well by now. On the other hand, Harbhajan Singh returned to the venue where he sealed a famous win against the same opponents 12 years ago, only to highlight his declining effectiveness, even on a helpful track against inexperienced batsmen. Harbhajan is now the Ashwin of two months ago, and Ashwin is now the Harbhajan of twelve years ago.

“I got the wicket of Harbhajan…that counts, right??”

CAN MOISES LEAD THE AUSSIES ACROSS THE INDIAN WILDERNESS?

Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke and now Moises Henriques. If it is an Australian tour of India, you can rest assured that it will kick-start an Aussie cricketer’s career, or at least rejuvenate it as in the case of Hayden. While Clarke was always the known threat for the Indian bowlers, they wouldn’t have expected resistance from a 26 year old Portuguese born  cricketer playing his first test ever, let alone his first on the subcontinent. 280 balls faced, 149 runs scored, 11 fours and 2 sixes later, the Australian top order excepting Clarke might have just found a template on how to tackle spin for the remainder of the series. And no, you cannot request to “re-debut” against the Indians now.

“This international cricket is easy-peasy…yawn…”

A DIFFERENT KIND OF ABBOTT-ABAD

It is not even funny anymore. As if facing Steyn, Morkel and Philander is not bad enough as a batsman, there is a new South African pacer on the block. Kyle Abbott, all of 25 years and 38 first class games old, made a stunning debut against Pakistan, picking up 9/68 at the Centurion test.  Granted, it was against a brittle Pakistani line-up and his pace hovers in the mid-130s kph; but his modus operandi is very much similar to Philander, and look where the Vern is now. If there is any cheer for the opposition, they can breathe easy as Abbot is only the sixth choice bowler for the Saffers. Yup, with the likes of Steyn and Philander to terrorize you, why worry about him? Yet?

“You mistake me…I eat only the red ones!”

THE RETURN OF AFRIDI: THE SEQUEL TO THE TRILOGY

I don’t know which is funnier – that Shahid Afridi is making his umpteenth comeback or the words of chief selector Iqbal Qasim, “this is Afridi’s last chance and he has to perform”.

“Vaas” my name? It’s Chaminda

SRI LANKA IS “GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER” 

Sanath Jayasuriya is chief selector, Chaminda Vaas is bowling coach and Muttiah Muralitharan is a special adviser. Hey Sri Lanka, the late 90s called and they wished you best of luck. After all, these are exciting times for the island nation, as they start afresh under new captains, and who better to show pointers than a bunch of cricketers who were responsible for their golden era?

“This knock should help….urm….uh….my team to win!”

CHRIS GAYLE TWITTER STAR

Gone are the good old days when Gayle garnered sympathy for his stand-off with the WICB. Now that he is back, he is expected to exhibit that annoying trait expected of any cricketer worth their salt – “consistency”. After a disastrous run over the last two series against Bangladesh and Australia, the Jamaican Hulk decided that he had enough, skipping the one day series against Zimbabwe to take a break. If you thought that Gayle takes this break to spend some quiet time with family or work on his game, you obviously don’t follow his Twitter account. It’s only a matter of time before he jumps ship and becomes a Reality TV star.

[This article was originally published in Sportskeeda on February 28, 2013]

Advertisements

Akhtar strikes, Afridi bites

Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago. 

Shoaib Akhtar is no stranger to controversy. He made an entire career out of it. When he was not busy shattering stumps and taking off on airplane celebrations, he spent his time fighting doping allegations, chucking scandals, ball tampering suggestions and even an unfortunate case of genital warts! He never shared a good equation with most of his team-mates as Mohammed Asif and Inzamam will testify. So what do you expect from him when he is finally unshackled from the restraints of being an active player and is all set to release his autobiography?? The book is titled, “Controversially yours”, for God’s sake! I would have been more shocked if there was no eyebrow-raising stories in the book.

Autobiographies need to have controversies, if they have to sell. Just ask Herschelle Gibbs. In Akhtar’s case, he has served a generous dolloping of controversy, ranging from candid admissions about ball tampering to passing incendiary comments about Tendulkar, Dravid, Akram and some of his own team-mates. Lost in the hullabaloo over the Tendulkar-Dravid comments is the fact that Akhtar has generously praised Ganguly and Dhoni for their leadership skills; but then again, how do you promote your book’s publicity based on that?

When there is a controversy involving India-Pakistan cricket, can the great Afridi be far behind? I have already written about him here, and my feelings since then have not changed much. While most other Pakistani cricketers have rubbished Akhtar’s tales, Afridi has backed him on his observations over Tendulkar, generously adding that Sachin’s legs used to ‘shiver’ when facing him. Setting aside the fact that this is hard to visualize, it is mighty impressive that Tendulkar manage to score a brilliant 98 in the 2003 World Cup and some impressive knocks in the tour of Pakistan in the following year – all this while on ‘shivering legs syndrome’!

Look, I’m not dissing either Akhtar or Afridi here. It is their right to express their opinion, whether most people agree with them or not. If they feel that Tendulkar is scared of Akhtar or that Dravid is not a match-winner, so be it. If you think otherwise, go ahead and express that as well. It is not a compulsion that everyone should shower glowing praises on Tendulkar, or have an unanimously good opinion about Dravid (though it would be hard to differ in this regard!). The fact is, when people look back twenty, thirty years from now, they will see that the records and accomplishments speak for themselves. There is no need to fly into nationalistic rage and degrade others’ achievements. It is noteworthy that the men at the center of the storm – Tendulkar and Dravid – have refused to comment on this, while others speak for and against them. Perhaps, there is a lesson to learn from them here.

Where Them Future Stars At

Peter Roebuck recently wrote an article on CricInfo, asking a simple question – ‘Who are cricket’s future greats?’. Unfortunately, apart from a statistical look at the modern greats and an expressed fear for the future, he didn’t really talk about any future stars in particular. So, I decided to make up a list of players from each Test playing nation, except Bangladesh, whose progress I am following and who I feel are more likely to be international cricketers of great caliber in the next ten years or so.

PS: I apologize in advance for the mangled statistics table!

KANE WILLIAMSON

Country: New Zealand

Age: 20 years

                Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
Tests 5 9 0 299 131 33.22 698 42.83 1 2 28 0 1 0
ODIs 15 14 2 352 108 29.33 514 68.48 1 0 22 3 3 0
First-class 29 49 2 1998 192 42.51 3732 53.53 6 9 242 12 27 0
List A 46 43 10 1537 108* 46.57 2054 74.82 4 7 105 15 18 0

I noticed Williamson for the first time during a nondescript tri-series in Sri Lanka last year. It was his debut series and he looked so out of depth at the international level that I wondered what the fuss was all about, as he was touted as the next big thing in New Zealand cricket by the experts; but it was during the Test series against India later, when I was won over. The way he tackled the spinners and batted with a calm assurance indicated a mature head, and while tours of South Africa and England will be challenging in their own right, I foresee a great future for him; I wouldn’t be too surprised if he is the Kiwi captain when the 2019 World Cup rolls around.

DINESH CHANDIMAL

Country: Sri Lanka

Age: 21 years

          Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
ODIs 4 4 2 143 111 71.50 168 85.11 1 0 9 5 4 1
T20Is 5 4 0 59 29 14.75 58 101.72 0 0 2 2 0 0
First-class 33 52 7 2733 244 60.73 3653 74.81 9 13 306 56 62 11
List A 42 41 5 1010 111 28.05 1266 79.77 1 8 73 25 35 2

Early last year, when India sent a weakened team to Zimbabwe under Suresh Raina for a pointless ODI tournament involving the host nation and Sri Lanka, they had their bottoms forcefully kicked by both teams. Apart from that, I remember the tri-series for a brilliant century by Chandimal against the Indians in just his second ODI innings. Later, I found that he has a stellar record in First class cricket, while there is scope for improvements in the short formats. Still, he has impressed many with his attitude and leadership skills right from the U-19 stage; and with the likelihood of Sri Lanka losing the services of stalwarts Sanga, Jayawardene and Dilshan in the next few years, the spotlight is going to be focused on him for the foreseeable future.

RILEE ROUSSOUW

Country: South Africa

Age: 21 years

               Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
First-class 39 69 1 2967 319 43.63 4675 63.46 9 13 431 22 45 0
List A 48 47 2 1656 131 36.80 1786 92.72 4 9 186 24 26 0

I have to admit that I have not seen much of his actual game, but in the few matches I have seen him play for his domestic team, he has looked the part of a quality player. I noticed him first during the 2008 U-19 World Cup where he turned in some decent performances, and then saw him again during the initial Champions League T20; and I came away with the feeling that he is steadily improving as a player. He could very well turn out to be a major batsman in Gary Kirsten’s new Proteas. Like the previous players in this list, he has every chance of becoming the future captain of his country.

BEN STOKES

Country: England

Age: 20 years

                Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
First-class 26 38 5 1541 185 46.69 5 5 16 0
List A 19 19 3 509 150* 31.81 540 94.25 1 2 40 14  5 0
                   Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 4w 5w 10
First-class 26 32 1398 1046 28 6/68 7/145 37.35 4.48 49.9 2 1 0
List A 19 9 236 207 14 4/29 4/29 14.78 5.26 16.8 1 0 0

Stokes fulfills the first criteria to become an English player – He was born outside the country 🙂 …. specifically in New Zealand, where his father played rugby for the Kiwis. Once he moved to England and started playing cricket though, people started to take notice. Like most others in this list, I noticed him first during the last U-19 World Cup, where he scored a century against India. Apart from being an aggressive batsman, he is also more than a handy performer with the ball; he has already put in some eye-catching performances this season before a dislocated finger brought an early end to his season. Still, he looks to be the most promising young cricketer in England and it seems to be a matter of time before he makes his debut for the senior English team.

ABHINAV MUKUND

Country: India

Age: 21

          Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
First-class 40 61 3 3446 300* 59.41 6207 55.51 13 9 435 17 29 0
List A 28 28 1 1550 130 57.40 1869 82.93 5 10 151 10 16 0

Such is the strength of the Chennai Super Kings, that they could afford to leave out one of the best batsmen in the country from the playing XI throughout their victorious campaign. Mukund is well known throughout the domestic circuit for his gluttonous appetite for runs. Along with his opening partner Murali Vijay, he has decimated many a new ball attack in the country. For his consistent performances throughout the last two seasons, he has won himself a place in the Indian Test squad to the West Indies in the absence of Sehwag and Gambhir. Don’t be too surprised if he edges out Vijay for the third opener’s slot when the two return to take their places.

JAMES PATTINSON

Country: Australia

Age: 21 years

                Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 4w 5w 10
First-class 6 11 1156 560 19 4/52 5/76 29.47 2.90 60.8 2 0 0
List A 15 15 760 659 26 6/48 6/48 25.34 5.20 29.2 0 1 0

It would be an understatement to say that there are not enough quality bowlers out there today. It doesn’t look too bright for the future as well. One bowler who might prove to be the odd exception is James Pattinson. While his elder brother shot to prominence first with an infamous debut for England in 2008, it was always the younger Pattinson who was being talked up as a future star. With the gift of swing, he is slowly working his way up the ranks, from the U-19 side for his state, to the Australia U-19 to Australia A, and now to the senior squad. Even as Australia struggle to retain top position in the international rankings, they would do very well to look at a fresh crop of players, with none more promising than the young Pattinson.

JUNAID KHAN

Country: Pakistan

Age: 21 years

                Mat Inns Balls Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 4w 5w 10
ODIs 7 7 288 223 9 4/12 4/12 24.77 4.64 32.0 1 0 0
T20Is 1 1 12 15 0 7.50 0 0 0
First-class 35 63 7110 3562 167 7/46 13/77 21.32 3.00 42.5 6 13 3
List A 34 34 1590 1279 46 4/12 4/12 27.80 4.82 34.5 3 0 0

Who else but a fast bowler would be the most promising young cricketer for Pakistan? While I would have normally gone for Mohammed Amir, I will settle for a less controversial choice in Junaid Khan. Like Amir, he is a left arm pace bowler who has been turning heads with his impressive ability for pace, swing and success in the domestic scene. Playing for the now famous province of Abbottabad, who are supposedly one of the weaker teams in Pakistan, he has built up an impressive reputation for himself. It was going to be only a matter of time before he made his debut for the senior side, and sure enough, he made his debut in ODI colors against West Indies a couple of months ago. His performance in that series indicate that with the right guidance and care, he can turn out to be one of the best fast bowlers in international cricket within the next few years. As long as Ijaz Butt and cronies don’t come up with an ingenious way to screw his career too.

DARREN BRAVO

Country: West Indies

Age: 22 years

              Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct St
Tests 5 8 1 313 80 44.71 767 40.80 0 4 30 6 1 0
ODIs 26 23 3 635 79 31.75 872 72.82 0 4 46 15 3 0
T20Is 3 3 0 83 42 27.66 75 110.66 0 0 9 2 0 0
First-class 23 35 2 1231 111 37.30 3 6 22 0
List A 48 44 6 1491 107* 39.23 2 10 10 0

Even if you have not been following West Indies cricket for the last year or so, you might be knowing that Darren Bravo bats like his famous relative Brian Lara. Fortunately for him, he has a decent record at both First class and Test level to back that fame…somewhat. While his half brother Dwayne has been an integral part of the senior side for a while now, Darren has earned a name for himself on the international scene only in the last two years. While his domestic records don’t scream run machine, his short stint in Tests and ODIs so far, indicate there is substance beneath the style. At the moment, he is not in the best of form, but for a team which comprises of batsmen who struggle to cope with quality international bowlers, his progress to a fully fledged champion batsman can’t come soon enough.

Say it ain’t so, Afridi

So yesterday, I’m going through all the cricket articles I can find on the internet, when I stumbled onto a provocatively titled:

Indians not as large hearted as Pakistanis: Afridi

Now knowing the Indian media’s penchant for sensationalism, I refused to believe that Afridi would have said anything close to that, and decided to take a look for myself as to what he was talking about.

Here is the video link, thanks to @teejay_tweets.

Now, there are a few things here which I would have normally ignored, but few others I can’t simply let go. I have admired Afridi for a long time, and I was really impressed with the way he handled himself and the media after the semi-final; but something seems to have changed ever since he went back home.

In my opinion, if I have to tell the truth, they (Indians) will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I don’t think they have the large and clean hearts that Allah has given us.

(Apart from the pretty obvious bigotry here, has Shahid never met an Indian Muslim in his life?)

It is a very difficult thing for us to live with them (Indians) or to have long-term relationship with them. Nothing will come out of talks. See how many times in the past 60 years we have had friendship and then how many times things have gone bad.

(So, what do you propose Afridi? You seem to know how to fix this problem..Definitely not if you keep spewing these statements..)

We don’t want to fight with each other but a third country – everyone knows which one it is – is trying to spoil our relations. (This country) is taking advantage of Pakistan and wants to take advantage of India. I don’t want to go into details but these people will not let us come together.

(I’m sorry…I have no clue…if everyone knows this, can someone let me in on the secret?)

The Indian media has a very negative approach and very negative thoughts. The people may not be like that but I think the media had a very dirty role in spoiling relations between us and India.

Our media, which is criticised by people, is hundred times better than theirs.

(This is one point which may be actually true, but since I don’t read Pakistani newspapers, I can’t verify that.)

Here is the statement that really got my goat (metaphorically speaking, of course!)

I think they were both very stupid comments by Rehman Malik and Gautam Gambhir…I wasn’t expecting this from Gautam…This is all politics, what do you know about who carried out the Bombay attacks?

(While I completely agree with his views on Rehman Malik, why did he drag Gambhir into this? Gambhir had only dedicated the World Cup victory to victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Where did he imply that it had anything to do with Pakistan? Even Tendulkar had dedicated his knock in the third Test against England in 2008 to the victims of the attack. Nowhere did he imply that Pakistan were responsible for it. Why does it matter to Afridi as to whom Gambhir dedicates the victory to?)

Anyway, I refused to believe the story till I saw the video. Now, I have lost all respect I’ve had for Afridi. Hopefully, this was just an instance of a brain fade for him. He has already copped enough abuse for these statements, and I’m not going to join in on it; but I hope that he refrains from making class-less statements like these, which does nothing to improve the relations between the two nations.

Afridi and his case of serious 'head dislocation'...

Not sufficiently excited about the Mohali clash?

A World Cup semi final featuring India and Pakistan. It will be the mother of all cricket matches. War sans the weapons. A battle for pride and honor. A blood feud between two warring neighbors.

Yawn.

In truth, it will be a high pressure match between two very talented teams, who will play the game like their lives depend on it (in some cases, their lives do depend on it!). There has been a lot of hype as usual, with politicians and movie stars wanting a piece of the action and the security and secret service are being kept on their toes, but the real pressure will be on the players, who dutifully have to maintain that they feel no pressure at all, in front of the cameras. For the agnostic who wonders what the fuss is all about and who feels left out, take a look below, as to why you should get excited about the Mohali clash:

1. Miandad sets a template for things to come…

2. ‘More’ Miandad (see what I did there?)…

3. Prasad and Sohail share the love in 1996…

4. Kanitkar’s moment in the sun (floodlight!)…

5. Will we see a contest between these two for the final time on Wednesday?

6. Afridi does what he used to do best…

7. Dhoni returns the favor…

8. Its a tie!

9. Misbah gives birth to IPL…

10. Yuvraj and Gul…will we see Act 2 in Mohali?

11. Gambhir and Afridi…all they want is some space..

12. Gambhir’s comments on Akmal’s keeping skills gets him riled up..

13. The last time they met each other…

 

I rest my case.

(If anyone has a problem with my selection of clips, stop whining and let me know which ‘moments’ should make the cut; and I will be gracious enough to add it here….)

Never say never – Destiny beckons Pakistan

Can Pakistan really win this World Cup?

I was one of many who severely doubted their chances at the outset of this tournament. After all, they had a disastrous run up to the Cup. Two of their world class bowlers were lost to a fixing scandal. Their board chief seemed more intent on spreading conspiracy theories than doing anything useful for the team. There was also the confusion over the captaincy, with the board not finalizing the skipper, till a couple of weeks before the tournament started.

Coming to the team itself, I didn’t believe that the batsmen will be reliable enough for the duration of this tourney. To some point, that has been vindicated with no Pakistan batsmen in the top 20 highest run getters. I also believed that apart from Gul and Afridi, they didn’t have enough firepower to bowl out or contain the opposition. In that regard, I was partially right. Seems, Gul and Afridi with a little help from Hafeez and Rehman is all they need.

While many like to tag the Pakistan team as ‘unpredictable’ (the same way the Saffers will always be considered ‘chokers’), there has been nothing unpredictable about this side. I suspect that this is due to the wise heads of the coach and manager. Together with the wild Afridi, they have fashioned a team which has had clear game plans for each match and who seem intent on proving their detractors wrong. West Indies was just a footnote in a surprisingly consistent campaign so far, and suddenly despite the presence of Sri Lanka and South Africa, Pakistan can consider themselves as serious contenders for the Cup.

So, what is the secret? What do they have, that the top ranked sides like India and Australia do not look as confident as Pakistan? For one, they have a talented and varied bowling attack which is the envy of the aforementioned two teams. Umar Gul has been an underrated bowler for a long time due to the presence of more charismatic and controversial fast bowlers, but in this World Cup, he has risen to the occasion and set the tone for the rest of the attack. Shahid Afridi cannot be considered a batsman or an allrounder any more, but there is no doubt that he is the most dangerous spinner in ODIs. Along with Gul, he has run through all lineups Pakistan have encountered, making the sight of him holding his arms aloft, very common. Hafeez has also been a handy customer with his darting off spin while Rehman and Razzaq have made sure that there is no respite for the opposition. Most importantly, except for the late overs carnage against New Zealand, they have put in consistent performances, game after game.

While the batting may not have been as impressive as the bowling, they have invariably done the job required of them. With the experience of Younis Khan and Misbah backing up the talents of Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq, they have a middle order who have rarely collapsed in a heap this tournament. And now, in Kamran Akmal and Hafeez, they seem to have stumbled on to an opening pair who have succeeded after umpteen tries; but the biggest reason to hope for Pakistan, is the improved wicket keeping by Kamran Akmal. If he can somehow hold on to every chance that comes his way, Pakistan might have won half the battle.

Pakistan have historically performed well when the world discounts them. It has been a horrid couple of years for them, what with all the bans, scandals, and inability to play international games at home; but it is precisely in these kind of situations, they seem to tap into some hidden reserve of determination and will power to confound their critics. This World Cup has all the makings of another glorious chapter in Pakistan cricket. A player who might never even be considered as a captain in any other side, leading a band of no-hopers to World Cup glory is the stuff dreams and Hollywood movies are made of. Destiny is calling the Pakistan cricket team forward and the time is ripe for Afridi and his boys to grab the moment.

So, can they do it? Can Pakistan win the 2011 World Cup?

As a wise Bieber once said/sang ————— Never Say Never

 

Who the hell is Shoaib Akhtar?

It was early 1999, on one of those hazy February days when I was stuck in class, trying to follow the score of the ongoing Test match between India and Pakistan, surreptitiously through regular text updates which my friend was receiving from a friend of his who was watching the game from home. The inaugural game of the Asian Test Championship was taking place in Kolkata, closely following that magical Test in Delhi where Kumble picked all 10 wickets in an innings. It was the second day and India were batting after having bowled out Pakistan cheaply; Ramesh and Dravid were batting, solid as ever and I was hoping that India would end the day with a comfortable lead. I was just drifting off to a lecture-induced nap, when my friend nudged me and relayed the news that Dravid and Tendulkar were dismissed off consecutive deliveries by Shoaib Akhtar. I still remember my response – “Who the hell is Shoaib Akhtar?”

Over the next few years, Akhtar has shown me and everyone else around the cricket world, who he is and what he is capable of. Speed demon, prima donna, scandal magnet – he was a symbol of the unpredictable nature of Pakistan cricket. Controversies were never far away for most of his career, with a list that includes doping bans, complaints of poor attitude, indiscipline, and accusations of chucking, ball tampering, feigning injury, altercations with team mates and coaches, and even the indignity of a public announcement of his genital warts condition. Still, he found time in between these tumultuous incidents to demolish batting line ups whenever he was in the mood. With a long run up in those early days, the Rawalpindi Express would steam in, for what seemed to be like an eternity to the batsman, before delivering a thunderbolt, which if on target, would almost always knock the stumps out of the ground.

He was a visceral delight for any true cricket fan. Along with the likes of Lee and Bond, he was one of the few pace bowlers who could set your heart racing. The run up, the delivery, the airplane celebrations upon taking a wicket – they were all trademarks of a special bowler, who could have been much more if not for his fitness and discipline issues. Still, that was Shoaib Akhtar as the whole package. What you saw was what you got.

There were some memorable contests over the years. The 1999 World Cup, his battles with Tendulkar and Dravid, his frequent demolitions of New Zealand, the Colombo spell against the Aussies and much more.Over the last few years, his speed may have dropped off a bit, and he seemed to be bowling on crutches; but when he gets it right, like the Jayawardene dismissal a few weeks back, there is no better fast bowler in sight.

For me, there were days I wished he was an Indian, considering the lack of genuine speedsters in India. Looking around, many other countries might feel the same way. Except for Steyn and Roach, there is no out and out speed demon out there. There is a sea of fast medium bowlers, who need helpful conditions to be threatening; but guys like Akhtar, Bond and Lee in his prime, could take the pitch out of the equation with their pace. For the sake of more thrilling spells like the ones which we used to get from this trio, I wish we can unearth more genuinely fast bowlers in International cricket; and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pakistan produce such a bowler again!

So, thank you for the memories, Shoaib! Best of luck for your future engagements, and whatever you do, remember to play safe!

“How many diamonds can you retrieve from one single mine; there has to be an end somewhere. I don’t see any natural fast bowler after me.”