shoaib akhtar

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.

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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.”

 

My personal favorite World Cup moments (1996-2007)

Well, I wrote a post on The Adventures of Billy the Worm regarding four of my unforgettable World Cup memories. Do take a look. Below are the video clips of those moments: