Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 1st ODI, Asia Cup, Dambulla June 15, 2010

Shoaib Akhtar makes a respectable return

The biggest point of conversation going into the match was which Shoaib Akhtar would turn up; as it transpired, he settled for the middle ground between the extremes only he is capable of

The biggest point of conversation going into the match was which Shoaib Akhtar would turn up after more than a year away from the international spotlight - the pacy and lethal Rawalpindi Express of his heyday or the erratic train-wreck of more recent vintage. Shoaib settled for the middle ground between the two extremes, finishing with respectable figures of 3 for 41.

He was the quickest bowler of the match, peaking at 148kph, and looked a few kilograms lighter, but his fitness levels were clearly short of the standards required for international cricket. His bowling was disciplined and he hurried the batsmen, but he was ponderous in the field and sought refuge in the dressing-room after two of his spells.

Handed the new ball by Shahid Afridi, Shoaib was at his best in the opening burst before starting to show signs of fatigue. Upul Tharanga was rarely at ease against his accurate, back-of-length bowling, and was generally content to tuck the ball for singles. Tillakaratne Dilshan was more adventurous, looking to cut and pull Shoaib, only to beaten by the pace or edge the ball, once just short of slips and nearly back onto the stumps off the very next delivery.

Towards the end of that four-over spell, Shoaib made the breakthrough - getting Tharanga to top-edge to first slip. The goodly crowd that had come in for the tournament opener wasn't treated to the famous 'airplane' celebration - zipping around in glee with his arms outstretched. Instead it was a far more subdued Shoaib on display; he just stood still after completing his follow-through, arms spread out and waiting for his team-mates to encircle him.

If expectations were raised by the new-ball spell, they were tempered by what followed. The Shoaib run-up remains as splendidly long as it was in his pomp but he rarely steamed in, usually just jogging up to the stumps. The walk back to the mark was painfully slow, a mournful trudge. As early as his second spell of two overs, he was hobbling on the field, grimacing and with hands on hips.

By the third spell, he was reduced to halving his run-up, something which he adamantly refused to do even after being asked to do so by former coach Bob Woolmer and captain Inzamam-ul-Haq ("Can a plane take off without a run-up?", he had asked then).

It looked bleak for Shoaib, but as usual there is no simple script when he is involved. Even with the curtailed approach he struck. Chamara Kapugedera carved to Umar Akmal at point, and two overs later Farveez Maharoof fiddled outside off to give Shoaib his third wicket.

Pakistan coach Waqar Younis said that Shoaib wasn't near top-gear yet but felt he would get better with more matches under his belt. "I think he's still got a long way to go," Waqar said after the match. "He's picked up three wickets which is good for us, still he's not there where we really want to see. He's still not the Shoaib Akhtar we want him to be. He probably needs a couple of more games."

That Shoaib is still on the international scene itself is something of a miracle. After innumerable bust-ups with all-comers - fans, team-mates, the PCB, you name it - and prolonged battles with injuries, he has been written off plenty of times. But in the world of U-turns that is Pakistan cricket, another cycle of upheavals combined with a decent run in the domestic one-day Pentagular has brought him right back.

If Shoaib can retain some of the old magic, in the company of Mohammad Aamer, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul, Pakistan will have a fast-bowling battery that rivals the best in the world. Also, at a time when teams are packed with line-and-length merchants, cricket can ill-afford to lose a bowler of genuine pace.

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • shaz on June 18, 2010, 19:32 GMT

    Pleeeeasee get ride of Shoiab Malik .He has not performed and have an attitude problem.Give a chance to young talent like fawad. We should think to rebuilt the pakistani team with new talents.Afridi is NOT a good captain but we (pakistan) have no choice that this time.

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2010, 14:56 GMT

    Rawalpindi Xpress is back.........

  • Kovilan on June 17, 2010, 8:55 GMT

    Great show by Pakistan and Sri lanka.Still cannot understand why Sri Lankan selectors persisting with tried and tested failures like Maharoof and Kapugedera.Mathews is becoming more mature each match and his consistency is excellent despite his lack of experience compared to kapu and Maharoof who are just wasting opportunities all the time.Time for Sri Lanka to throw in Chandimal and Jeevan Mendis into the team to have a solid team to lift the World Cup.No doubts that Chandimal and Jeevan have more to offer than Kapu and maharoof.The side has already got rid of Jaya because of his dismal performances so they must go one step furter by removing these two culprits to have a super team.Yesterday showed that by having someone like Chandimal/Jeevan Sri Lanka could have made much more runs and won more convincingly.Come on Aravinda, do Sri Lanka's world cup campaign justice and drop the underperformers!

  • Tharindu on June 17, 2010, 6:45 GMT

    What is the thing that some of you talking about by saying that Sanga did not allow a runner to Afridi ?? I don't think that he did such a thing....I guess Afridi wanted the full credit of his performance.That's why he did not ask for a runner.Is n't it ?....Actually, I heard that commentators said, "Sanga told to the 2 umpires that it is completely their(umpires) decision, to allow or not ". We, as spectators, only follow what the commentators say. So, we don't know the things beyond that...I want to hear from those who're complaining about Sanga's "sportsmanship", that what are the evidents for your complain ? Really, I would like to clarify this. That's why I'm asking...

  • n on June 16, 2010, 22:21 GMT

    Disappointment ..... nothing but diappointing and poor performance by openers and top order batsmen. Slow score in the oppenning spell had set the mark for defeat. Shoaib Malik is still not over with his politics, and grief and seems determine to hurt the team by staying in ...... hope he realizes it, otherwise he is not going to last long in team and going to have plenty of time for his newly mamasita. Umar Akmal played a short but impressive knock. Shoaib Akhtar is back after shredding some pounds but still need more physical fitness.Razzaq though played his role very well but his last run is questionable , as instead taking run he was supposed to play one more ball of Malinga. Amer was not used appropriately by the Captain. Afridi did play well,however never notice that his fitnees is in question, perhaps he never played this long innings before and was surprised that he never attempted to ask for a runner, consequently, at least ten runs were lost due to his limmping.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2010, 20:44 GMT

    good to See a captain performing so well. shoaib akthar comeback was very good. afridi has played as captain under pressure playing so well and fast. afridi played like a champion yesterday. shoaib akthar has bother very team he plays against. i think it's time for shoaib akthar to take 5 wickets haul against India. i think imran farhat should come in the second game.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2010, 17:54 GMT

    shahid afridi innings was atreat to watch,i doubt his captaincy,batting order was messy,2 debutants sent in a crisis situation,Abdul Razzaq is highly talented player but always spoiled by captains.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2010, 17:11 GMT


  • Mohammad on June 16, 2010, 15:10 GMT

    Mohammad Asad from USA............

    What a Captain's Knock---under pressure !!! Well done Afridi.....Really enjoyed your batting...... Good to see S. Akhtar !! Last spell...technically not 100% fit !!! Hoping to last till WC.......... Shahzaib should play his natural game... S. Malik is a recognised culprit ---his face & body language was not good..... I doubt what happened to Razzak !!! I have felt in him a shadow of culprit Malik...

    SL has played a professional game...specially Malinga was really good !!! Sangakara should show 'sports man spirit' by allowing runner ........

  • Waruna on June 16, 2010, 13:40 GMT

    I would like to see Shoaib playing in the 2011 World Cup Finale against Sri Lanka... ( It's not a realistic Expectation Bro... you would say..... :D) But, I like to see him there... With his wild celebrations.. ( There's no vassy to perform 'airplane' man... )

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