Shoaib Akhtar: The best and the worst

Shoaib is a uniquely Dickensian character. He is the best of entertainers, he is the worst of entertainers. He is the best of entertainers because in recent cricket history nobody can match the energy and the excitement that Shoaib brings on to the field. He is the worst because unlike most entertainers he disappoints when you expect the most off him. He disappoints by not showing up. It would be fair to say that you either hate him or love him and after so many years of disappointments most people would be inclined to see this man out of the team due to his ‘apparent’ lack of discipline and ‘attitude’ problems. This is where I stop agreeing with these people. I am not contesting the allegations, but the desire to see him out of the team.

I have gone from loving Shoaib when he first came on the world stage to hating him and now I am back to loving him. And if his career was to end today I would stick to this view of mine. However, let’s have a look at his career stats first as that gives a good indication of a player’s calibre. 165 wickets in 42 tests at an average of 25.69 and 208 wickets in 133 ODI’s at an average of 23.33. These stats aren’t the most amazing you’ll ever see, but they aren’t that bad either for a man who has rarely been completely fit. The real story of his career is the one I am going to tell you now.

When Pakistan toured Australia in 2004-05 they were literally massacred. They lost the 3 Test series 3-0. And to be honest noone really stood out from the Pakistan team. They were some flashes of brilliance in the middle, but it was mostly pretty mundane stuff. Shoaib had a great first test-and-a-half as well, but it was his last over before tea on the second day of the Boxing Day test at Melbourne that really displays what Shoaib brings to cricket.

I am quoting from Cricinfo (28 December 2004) what happened:

Langer drove through the covers and Akhtar responded with a series of stares and glares and even spat in his direction. Two furious bouncers followed – the second one hit Langer on the forearm and he was visibly in pain as he threw off his glove and armguard. Akhtar rubbed it in with a mocking gesture – feigning pain – before delivering the next ball but he overstepped the crease and was met with an equally taunting Langer with a feisty no-ball signal.

At the end of the day’s play, Langer said that he had revelled in the confrontation: “For me that’s why you play the game.” He went on to liken it to a combat and added, “There was nothing malicious about it. It was like two warriors going at each other. A bloke’s bowling at 150kph, trying to rip the fingers off your hand, or even worse. It gets your blood going, the adrenaline pumping, you’re in a fight – to me that’s what Test cricket is all about.”

For any riveting confrontation, both sides have to be equally pumped up and Langer praised Shoaib for playing his part. “For me, it’s one of the great battles in Test cricket playing against Shoaib Akhtar,” he said. “Today I reckon he bowled as fast as I’ve seen him bowl in all our confrontations. I’ve always said he’s the fastest bowler I’ve ever faced and I reckon today, besides an over or two he bowled at the WACA four years ago, it was as quick as I’ve faced for a long time.”

Pakistan lost that series 3-0, but on Cricinfo the headline pictures had Shoaib on more occassions than it had all Australians put together. Our current cricket team has a dearth of aggressive, entertaining personalities (apart from Afridi) and Shoaib brings a lot more to the team than just his bowling. He brings aggression, competitiveness and a sort of character, which is evident from the records of the likes Inzamam and Yousuf, but not their demeanour on the field.

I am glad that Shoaib has been recalled to the team. If he feels he can play he should be allowed to play because a relatively fit Shoaib is better than most fast bowlers fully fit. I’ve seen many great fast bowlers, but there is only one fastest bowler in the world. I realize that this is a very biased analysis, but I am a fan. What do you think?

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