COLOMBO: Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable, so said Plato. He may well have been talking about Shoaib Akhtar.
They didn’t call Akhtar the bad boy of Pakistan cricket for nothing.
During the best part of his career that began in 1997, Akhtar stayed in the limelight for one reason or the other. More often than not, the reason wasn’t a positive one.
During a chequered international career, Akhtar shot to fame by delivering the fastest recorded ball in cricket’s history. But he will also be remembered for a series of controversies that included lengthy bans and hefty fines for offences ranging from chucking to ball tampering and from doping to brawling with a fellow teammate.
And on Thursday, Akhtar’s timing to announce his retirement from international cricket raised question marks over his intentions.
Akhtar said that he will quit the game after the World Cup and was evasive when asked about the specific reason for his decision to opt for such a move just 48 hours before Pakistan’s crunch World Cup match against Australia.
It is understood that Akhtar, who was dropped from Pakistan’s previous World Cup game against Zimbabwe, is not a part of the national team management’s first choice eleven for the match against the Aussies.
“I must make way for the youngsters to take over,” Akhtar told reporters here on Thursday. Till last month, he didn’t think so. At that time, he had said that there was still a lot of cricket left in him and that he can carry on with national duty.
Akhtar, 35, sported a completely changed look as he walked into the press conference area to announce his retirement. Wearing a grey shirt and a black jacket, Akhtar behaved like a man who had learnt his lessons. Gone was the attitude that was once his hallmark as he absorbed each and question that was fired at him and took his time answer them.
He was a completely different character when he first entered the world of cricket. Akhtar had several brushes with authorities even before he first played for Pakistan.
But soon after making his Pakistan debut Akhtar showed his value by a match-winning showing in Pakistan’s first Test win South Africa.
But it was in 1999 that Akhtar became a phenomenal success. He scalped India’s Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid off successive balls at the Asian Test Championship and then sparkled in the World Cup in England.
In 2000, however, injuries forced him out of action before being called for chucking.
From then onwards there were controversies unlimited. The biggest bombshell came during the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy in India where he tested positive for anabolic steroid nandrolone. He was banned but an appeals committee later cleared him. In 2007, he was recalled from South Africa after he hit Mohammad Asif — his new-ball partner — with a cricket bat.
But on Thursday, Akhtar was evasive when asked to comment on the controversies that swirled around him for more than 13 years. In fact, ten minutes into the presser and it seemed that Akhtar stood for all that’s good in cricket — honesty, passion and patriotism. It was certainly a good show by a man, who isn’t known for his tact. May be time has taught him well.
Whether he was a bad boy or somebody who gave everything he had for his country, one thing is for sure. Akhtar is one of the most colourful characters to have played the game. He would be missed.