Thursday, March 17, 2011

Goodbye, Shoaib

Shoaib Akhtar: Completely brainless, but
brilliant on his day
My first memory of Shoaib Akhtar is at the Eden Gardens. India was playing Pakistan during the Asian Test Championships. Sanjay Manjeraker was in the commentary box when Shoaib was brought on as first change after Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis had finished their initial spell. Shoaib's card read: Shoaib Akhtar, Age 23, Right Arm Fast Medium. Manjrekar said, "That's wrong. I saw this guy in South Africa. Fast medium is incorrect. This guy has raw pace, mark my words."
I don't think anyone will remember what Manjrekar said, but Shoaib will be remembered for clean bowling Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar of successive balls and the world said that he is the next big thing.
Shoaib has had bursts of brilliance after this match. His spell in Australia where he got the Waugh twins and Ricky Ponting in one over is considered one of the best spells of fast bowling ever. There was this spell against New Zealand where he picked up six wickets for 11 runs. I cannot remember the match, but Shoaib has been a matchwinner several times for Pakistan.
Unfortunately Shoaib's biggest problem was himself. He was plagued by injuries for a major part of his career; people thought that he played for himself rather than the team and he was considered a poor fielder. Shoaib for his part defended himself on most occasions saying that he was a victim of circumstances and politics in Pakistan cricket. We can't even blame him there. Pakistan's cricket policy unfortunately makes the BCCI look intelligent. There was a phase in the middle where religion played an important role in the selection of the Pakistani squad. Rumours were that you had to pray five times a day and that 'Allah would grace you and improve the quality of Pakistani cricket.' Shoeb thought it was bollocks and wasn't selected.
Then there was the infamous case where the PCB said that he couldn't play because he had genital warts. When I read it, I laugh because it's ludicrous that someone would publicly announce that. But that's the PCB for you.
The tragedy about Shoaib is that he could have been the world's greatest fast bowler. He was brilliant on days and could destroy anyone with that yorker of his. I remember reading about him before I actually saw him bowl. He had made his debut against South Africa and Wasim Akram hadn't said much about him. It was almost like a surprise for the opposition. He came and bowled some of the fastest stuff and completely destroyed Darryl Cullinan, a really good player of fast bowling. The newspaper report said that Cullinan's leg stump had been uprooted.
At the end of the day, I'll say that I'll miss Shoaib. He'll still be in the news for his brainless acts. Hell, I see him in jail for something too. But that's not the point. Cricket won't be as exciting and I'll never ever get to see a Sachin-Shoaib or Sehwag-Shoaib event again. 

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