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Shoaib Akhtar had the world at his feet...

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    Shoaib Akhtar had the world at his feet...

    Shoaib Akhtar had the world at his feet, but breakdowns and a speeding ticket from the ICC have now put his career on ice. He will not return until he is firing on all cylinders and smashing the 100mph barrier. This interview with CricInfo's George Dobell is also published in the January edition of The Cricketer.

    Shoaib Akhtar has endured a chastening year. He has been sidelined by a succession of injuries and a ban imposed by the ICC for throwing. But Shoaib is good for cricket. There are few better sights than the man they call the Rawalpindi Express in full flow.

    There have been abortive attempts to play again already, but the hope is that a prolonged period of rest and treatment will restore him to full health. So how is he feeling as a spectator for the first England tour of Pakistan for 13 years?

    "Pretty good. I'm sorry to miss out on playing against England, but I can't take any risks this time. I am following medical advice carefully. I must be patient. I am resting and I'm getting stronger. I'm going to come back with a bang this time, I promise you that. I played when I was injured before and that made it much worse. I wanted to help my country, but I won't make that mistake again."

    Shoaib admits he has had moments of doubt, depression even, during a difficult 2000. Worse than the injury problems was the decision of the ICC to ban him for a suspect action last New Year's Eve. "I couldn't believe it when I heard the comments about my action. Really, I was shocked. I've played all over the world; no one ever mentioned a problem. Everyone watched the World Cup. All the cricket legends were there, and not one of them ever saw a problem. There is a natural twist in my arm, there is a hyperextension. My hand is always straight, though."

    How did he change his action to comply with the wishes of the ICC? He reacts with horror to the idea. "I haven't changed it at all. Why should I? It is a good action. I'll never change it. Never."

    So, what of all the stories about working with great fast bowlers? "Let me make it clear," he says in exasperation. "I've met Dennis Lillee once, briefly. He never coached me, Michael Holding never coached me; I've had brief talks with Imran, but people just make this stuff up. I get so hurt by the rubbish I read in the papers. I read a lot of rubbish that I was working with Lillee but I know what the truth is.

    "When I heard all the stuff that the ICC were saying, it was terrible. It was the worst time. I was about to pack up my stuff and never play cricket again. I was ready to move to England and forget about it. A wounded man can't help himself. Then I spoke to the Press the next morning and tried to sound brave; said I would be back soon, but I didn't really mean what I was saying. I was a wounded man. It was so disheartening. I was very down.

    "When I was banned, I couldn't enjoy my cricket. I couldn't even enjoy life itself. I didn't have the heart to give my attention to my fitness. That was the worst thing I've done, and it caused problems later. Psychologically I was hurt. My mind was scarred by it."

    One of the results of his lay-off was that he missed the season he was to spend at Nottinghamshire. He expresses deep regret, and says he would like to return to Trent Bridge in the future. "I'd like to be back there. It was a lovely atmosphere, and I love England but I'm busy touring for the next couple of years. England is my favourite country, always has been. I have a lovely time there, and the people are very special."

    He was aware of the excitement generated in the Asian community in Nottinghamshire in particular, and disappointed to let them down. "I know their membership increased because people wanted to see me, and I'm sorry I couldn't play. The people, all the people, be they white or Asian, showed me a great deal of love. There is a big Asian community there, and they welcomed me. Everyone in Nottingham was nice, and it's a beautiful city.

    "I really appreciate the support of Nottinghamshire, particularly Clive Rice. He really tried to help me and I'm grateful for that. I enjoyed it there. I think people recognise how hard I try. They love the fact that I give my best. I had a good World Cup in England too."

    Shoaib is unusual for a fast bowler. He does not have the height of an Ambrose or a Walsh, or the muscular physique of a Gough or a Malcolm. Glenn McGrath commented in October that Shoaib puts too much emphasis on pace, and not enough on trying to be a good bowler. With his career jeopardised by injury, has Shoaib considered compromising his pace for longevity? Working on seam and swing movement? Does a change to off-spin await?

    Shoaib is outraged: "No way. Never. God made me a supreme athlete. I cannot compromise that. I have a mission to cross the 100mph barrier. God gave me that mission. I will break the barrier forever. People say I'll never be the same again, but that's rubbish. I'll prove how good I am. If I can burn brightly for a short time, perhaps 10 years, that will be enough. I don't want to save myself for an extra five years of being ordinary. I want to set records that will never be broken. I want to leave cricket like a king. Pride is important to me. I will only play if I can do so with pride. Would you ask Michael Johnson to run a marathon? He has the muscles for sprinting; it's the same for me. God made me a fast bowler."

    Rumours of match fixing and disputes over payment must have created an awkward atmosphere in the Pakistan dressing room. "I'm no authority on that," he counters, "I haven't been in there for seven months. All these stories are bad news for cricket though. When I spoke to the guys during the one-day series they seemed focused and together. We, as cricketers, have a bad reputation. We are all under suspicion because of the actions of a few, and that leaves a stain.

    "My opinion is that Hansie Cronje is a genuine guy. I feel sorry for him, and for what he did. We have to think there is a time for forgiveness, a way back. What he did was no different, as far as I'm concerned, to the actions of Mark Waugh and Shane Warne. They should all be treated the same."

    He is conscious of being a role model, particularly to the Muslim community, and aware of the demands that this puts upon him. He has been criticised for enjoying an over-active social life, though, and accused of not focusing entirely upon cricket. It's a suggestion that he strongly refutes. "No way. I never leave my hotel room when I'm playing. I've heard people say these things about me being a "party animal" but I don't know where they come from. I'm not aggressive, like people say, either. I read, I pray. Yes, of course I understand that I'm a role model. I am a genuine, good Muslim. I respect the community too. I have such thanks to God and the prophet, and strong belief in them. All the people in Pakistan love their cricket too, so it is natural that people will look up to us players."

    He is convinced that his lay-off has been far longer than was necessary. He believes that, had he rested initially, and received the correct professional advice, the problem would never have become so serious. "People can't really accuse me of not giving my all. I had three broken ribs, I had a bad shoulder but my side needed me so I forced myself to play. It was the final game in a series (the Cable & Wireless triangular one-day series against West Indies last April). I said I was worried but the series was close and we needed to win. I didn't want to let my country down. If there is a man who loves their country more than me, I'd like to meet him.

    "I called Notts and said I was worried. I didn't want to let them down, just as I hadn't wanted to let my country down. I couldn't make the same mistake again though, and play when I wasn't fully fit. There are many unprofessional people around who should have looked after me, and I should never have been given pain-killing injections. It shouldn't ever have happened."

    Every cricket interview has an obligatory topic at present. Shoaib's name has been linked with match-fixing allegations in the past, but he is vehement in his denials. "I've read stuff I'm supposed to have said on a plane, and Ali Bacher's comments. Never happened. I've never been approached. Listen: if I am approached to throw a game, I won't need to report it. I'll take care of him. I'm not the sort of guy who cheats his country."


    Uske ik ik hurf ki teh mein mein ne akser chahat ka deriya daikh..
    uski ankhon mein mein ne akser pyass ka sehra daikha..
    derd ki ruut mein kon kisi ke zakhmon pe merhum rakhta hai..
    chandni raat mein mein ne akser chand ko tanha daikha..

    aaah...I really miss seeing Shoaiby in action!
    So was he really 'throwing' that ball?
    A samurai bares no sign of weakness, even when dying of hunger.


      Originally posted by cat-woman:
      aaah...I really miss seeing Shoaiby in action!
      So was he really 'throwing' that ball?
      yeah it will be good to see pindi express back in action .. "the good muslim fast bowler!"
      throwing .. when you do not bowl with full action .. bend the arm and do not follow thru

      Hey one more thing
      These things are hard to explain
      For some it seems strange... to swallow
      The frontier of our minds
      Is the last place we find
      But maybe the first place we should go