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Shoaib Akhtar: Fast, furious and brash

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Last updated on 13 Aug 2023 | 09:55 AM
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Shoaib Akhtar: Fast, furious and brash

On this day in 1975, one of Pakistan's finest bowlers was born in Rawalpindi

Every great cricketer took up the sport because it was pure and exciting. And then came the compromises: tweaking playing style to remain in contention, changing batting position to get into the team, toning down attitude to remain likeable, and so on. Very few, almost countable on a single hand, played without those shackles, like Shoaib Akhtar.

A small reflection on Akhtar’s career and the first few sighs that come are of regret. The limitless potential he had, the ecstatic moments he created on the international stage, and that fearsome, almost demi-God-like run-up from the ropes made cricket watching memorable for the 90’s kids.

Born on August 13, 1975, in Rawalpindi, Akhtar was always an impulsive kid. While studying at Asghar Mall College, he stopped his studies to attend PIA team's Karachi division trials, which were held in Lahore. He didn’t have money for a bus ticket, so he would sit on the roof. 

Once Akhtar’s List A career started to roll in 1993, it wasn’t long before he started turning heads. It was during the 1994/95 first-class cricket season that PCB’s then chief executive Majid Khan noticed Akhtar’s potential, and he was sent on Pakistan A team's tour of England in 1996. 

Akhtar would make his Test debut against West Indies in 1997 and get a long rope for the South Africa and Zimbabwe tour before the home series against Australia and Zimbabwe. However, his performances remained underwhelming until the 1999 tour of India. In front of a jampacked Eden Gardens stadium chanting Sachin Tendulkar’s name, Akhtar destroyed his stumps off his first ball to the Master Blaster with a toe-crusher. It was right after he had sent Rahul Dravid to the pavilion.

It was then that the world got up to take notice of his speed, his aggression and, more importantly, his unnatural ability. Akhtar was a freak of nature, and like any other natural disaster, he remained unruly and unpredictable until the very end of his career. 

Akhtar’s peaks came after long gaps, but it was a sight to behold when they arrived. Whether it be his lightning fast delivery at 161.3 kilometres per hour against England during the 2003 World Cup, his Test hat-trick against Sri Lanka in the 2002 Lahore Test or his mind-boggling 4 for 11 for Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2009 against Delhi Daredevils, Akhtar produced deliveries that remained unanswered even by the greatest of batsmen.

Unfortunately, when Akhtar, fondly referred to as the Rawalpindi Express, wasn’t producing magic on the field, he was busy creating controversies off it. As if being injury prone owing to bowling action wasn’t enough, Akhtar was continuously at war with his teammates and cricket board. Following Pakistan’s dismal display at the 2003 World Cup, Akhtar was involved in a verbal conflict with skipper Waqar Younis which saw him get sacked. The same year, Akhtar was banned for ball tampering once and again for abusing South African spinner Paul Adams.

All of this, compounded with ankle and wrist injuries, saw Akhtar miss almost half of the matches Pakistan played. He underwent surgery in 2006 before he was eventually banned for taking performance-enhancing drugs. Akhtar was also charged with breaching the players’ code of conduct in 2008, and the list just goes on.  

Akhtar had returned briefly to cricket amidst all the controversies, and people saw him with a changed run-up, although the bowler never compromised on pace. The Pakistan bowler ended with 178 Test wickets and 247 ODI wickets before becoming a renowned commentator later in his career.

One might wonder the heights of success Shoiab Akhtar could have achieved had he channelized his potential to a single direction. But Akhtar bowled for the sheer joy of bowling, the pure content he felt while running at batsmen with terrorising speed. And when he couldn’t do that anymore owing to age and injury, he just quit bowling altogether.     

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