Pakistan December 7, 2005

It’s SHO-time, folks!

ESPNcricinfo staff
Fast bowlers....they are like the reflective eyes of a predating carnivore crossing your nocturnal highway in the distance

Fast bowlers....they are like the reflective eyes of a predating carnivore crossing your nocturnal highway in the distance. They declare themselves unabashed, as if the rest of the team is selected to support them. They ask for attention like a newborn placed in a damp cradle. They charge in, they rant, they sulk, they go over the top, they exult as if there is no tomorrow – and they expect to be loved for it! These hot-headed guys, blessed with pace generating mechanism running on fuel supplied from a colossal ego, can be as terrible to the thin-skinned folk in the dressing room as they are abominable to the opposition players quivering at the crease.

Simply put, they like to play king and, insufferably for some victims, are often allowed that. Rightly so, to be fair (or unfair – who cares!). For they often have what others only fantasise of having – an ability to strike like the king cobra; when the victim knows it is generally too late. None does any of these better than Shoaib Akhtar though.

A star was born when Hurricane Akhtar castled Indian batting mainstays Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar off successive deliveries at the Eden Gardens during the inaugural Asian Test championship match in 1999. He made his mark the previous year when his team visited the land of White Lightning. But it was against the archrivals of Pakistan that Shoaib Akhtar chose to announce himself. Thus started his arc-lit journey on both facets of the now-famed Shoaib persona – a crushing performance in the first innings to redeem his team, and a part in the bitter controversy involving Sachin’s run-out in the second. Shoaib Akhtar had arrived with genius and ruckus.

Shoaib’s potency as a strike bowler was never in question even during his darkest days in the past couple of months. Leaving alone lesser sides, he is the only bowler besides Shane Bond and Anil Kumble to trouble Australia in all conditions. Love him or hate him, he has done so in both forms of the game, albeit sporadically. And they don’t grudge that other genius Lara the off-and-on bit.

The Shoaib of early days used to be a skipper’s delight. No amount of bad press can ever change that truth. In match after exacting match he kept going for the opponents’ jugular and the telecaster’s speed guns without holding back. He was exemplary in the 1999 World Cup. Even when his team set a paltry target for Australia in the most lopsided World Cup final, Shoaib came out with all guns blazing and continued showing positive body language even when his peerless skipper Wasim Akram had obviously given it up.

Another of Shoaib’s characteristics emphasising his place in the hierarchy is his un-playability while in a purple patch. During crucial passages of play this longhaired hulk can make the opponent batsmen feel like tail-enders. A tri-series league match at Sharjah in early 2000 saw Shoaib Akhtar knock the stuffing out of an imposing South African middle order cruising to another victory.

With characteristic flair he knocked off three vital wickets in one deciding over to help his team defend a sub-200 total easily. Poor Klusener! After that fabulous previous year in both forms of the game he must have been left flummoxed to decipher what yet on the earth was left to conquer him like that…well it was a Shoaib special, never mind! Shoaib went off the field with a niggle for a while only to come sprinting back and hover about the edge of the boundary, asking to be let in while his skipper Moin chose not to risk it before the final.

Allegations of throwing flew past Shoaib’s head like fruits whizzed around Brett Lee’s but the one thing that his hyper-extended elbow never threw in was the towel. Even by fast bowlers’ standards he was errant in his ways with the team, but he was certainly not beyond redemption. His heart was found to be at the right place early in his career, and it almost was a personal satisfaction to see glimpses of that old Shoaib in the recent series win against Englishmen.

Shoaib is arguably the best that the world today has in his chosen area, though some others are not that far behind. And all should literally be happening out there at the 22 yards if a delectable Brett Lee, a sustainable Shane Bond and an intelligible Mohammad Sami join the redoubtable Shoaib Akhtar in the fastest and most enjoyable race on offer in the world of cricket.

Shoaib is going to be late, very late at the entrance to the hall of eternal bowling greatness. During the rest of his career he has to bowl a lot in the corridor of uncertainty in order to render a passage to that corridor a certainty. But at least he woke up at the warning bell that was meant to rattle him out of an unwarranted mid-career slumber while crossing thirty. Now he would be making up for lost time by inducing his lethal swing to be late. Very late.

The Ebb of Sho-aib is over and done with, while the Show is about to begin. Fasten your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen, for it is time to follow the ‘pindi express back to the end of his long run-up, cheer him, egg him on, and derive the greatest joy from witnessing such a one take off like the Golden Eagle every now and then while mending a few hyper-extended batting averages out there. He has done enough to deserve this, and now we can trust him to do more for the timber business – and biomechanical analysts maybe, to a lesser degree.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on February 7, 2006, 5:56 GMT

    Well as long as Shoaib can remove The Captain of India like he did at Karachi-Aussie Umpire, I might add, same gang as your Coach-and clonk the Genius of India on the head on occasion and send your mighty tail back from whence they came once in a while then Akhtar can "play for himself", his girlfriend, his mother, his Music Video Best friend, his driver, his bodyguard for as long as he wants for all I care. I'll take Shoaib anytime, warts, double joints, thinning hair and all, and you can bet I'll be watching. By the way, Greg Chappell bringing up the legality of a bowler's action is laughable but understandable since he very well could not blame the Umpires now could he? Say hi to Trevor for me, Greg.

  • testli5504537 on December 30, 2005, 4:35 GMT

    Stars often get brighter in series against England. Perform well against England, and you're assured of at least a year's fame. Maybe its because of the strong English media, or maybe because of the attention England gets in the cricket world.

    Judging from one of his pre-England interviews, Shoaib knew this quite well. He knew it was a big series and a good performance will get him the tag of a great fast bowler. Don't kid yourselves, you know Shoaib. He wasn't playing for any team, he was - as always - playing for himself.

    Maybe the fire from last year's "performance malfunction" will help him put in proper effort against India. But after that (if not before that), he'll be back to the old Shoaib we all know so well. Wait and watch.


  • testli5504537 on December 11, 2005, 11:53 GMT

    @ insider: ah yes. dry wicket, ball scuffed up, it reverse swings.

    it certainly reverse swung a lot when vaughan was bamboozled by a full toss slower delivery from shoaib.

    and yes, poor old bell also had to contend with extravagant reverse swing when he was trapped in front.

    the swing was so pronounced and so late that despite the fact that he had batted for hours and scored over 90 runs, despite the fact that the delivery had clocked less than 75 mph, poor old bell was undone by the scuffed up surface.

    and yes i do agree-shoaib is a rubbish bowler who has not replicated his feats on any other wicket in any other country. i mean when he was intimidating matty hayden in Perth and Sydney he was just lucky and benefiting from the pacy tracks in australia.

    shoaib sucks, i agree. ---------------------- angshuman....Indo-Pak rivalry underground? no way....check out the crowds and television audiences for the upcoming series...the only reason they're having three Test series in three years is to cash in on the crowd excitement-nothing better than beating the old rival.

    by the way i feel they should limit it to a biannual series and give it a proper name (like the Ashes). The Indo-Pak cricketing rivalry has not yet been matched in terms of sheer intensity. ------ add a little many pure strike bowlers DO we have nowadays? who can bowl at 90 mph+ ?

    lee, bond, harmison, shoaib, sami, malinga, (fidel) edwards, best, tait (though he just started)....and?

    my memory fails me yet again.

    to me shoaib has been the most fearsome and fiery bowler in this bunch...has destroyed several lineups in different conditions...strikes fear in the heart of the opposition like no one else. For example Sami matches Shoaib for pace but lacks penetration-ditto for some others.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2005, 11:23 GMT

    Gaurav (of 'Damn you Inzy' fame), did I hear you mention Indo-Pak rivalry is ten feet under the ground?

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2005, 8:33 GMT

    I think it's unworthy of a Pakistani fan to assume that anyone who badmouths Shoaib (without much evidence I must add) to be India. Shoaib practically lives in India, he's always visiting that country. Indian fans have generally given him respect and admired him for being able to do no Indian out of a billion can.

    Shoaib may be a poster boy or a controversial figure, but let's remember that he grabbed all the media attention in the first place because of his cricketing ability. We all know that no player has ever gotten bigger than the game. If the game deserts Shoaib, he will be forgotten, just like Waqar was once he lost his penetration in the late 90's. Shoaib has 12 five-wicket returns in test cricket, is bowling as fast as ever at 30 and still has better command over the ball than other pacemen like Lee and Sami (why am I even mentioning Sami here). All fast bowlers are prone to injury and expected to sustain superhuman levels of fitness. Just take a look at Shane Bond and imagine how much better Shoaib has done. Now that Shoaib is starting to put his head down and work on his fitness like he did 6 years ago, we might see the 'Pindi Express run batting orders overs for another two or three good years.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2005, 7:25 GMT

    I watched a fair bit of the Pakistan v England series (for my sins) and can confirm that Shoaib was the stand out bowler of the series.

    The pitches were largely blameless. Shoaib took wickets by varying his length, varying his pace with outstanding slower balls and by bowling the occassional unplayable delivery from nowhere.

    All the other pace bowlers tried the above techniques, occassionally successfully, but none of the others with the same degree of success.

    Shoaib has good days and bad days. I hope for England's sake that he doesn't have too many good days over the 5 ODIs to come in the next fortnight.

    Shoaib can put his whole heart into it and can abstain from doing so - were I a Worcestershire member I'd want my 2005 money back from him, frankly.

    But all pure strike bowlers have this element of unpredictability about their performances - that's almost what defines them strike bowlers.

    On balance, therefore, I agree with Angshuman Hazra's position far more so than insider's - Shoaib is probably the most effective pure strike bowler in the world today.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2005, 6:58 GMT

    I have been following ur discussion with great interest. I m a cricket commentator for Radio Pakistan and was doing commentary on Faisalabad Test. I have followed test series with immense interest. I feel that Shoaib really bowled intelligently in this series. He was never off colour, never injured and bowled with heart on dead wickets. This credit goes to him that whenever Pakistan needed wickets, he brokethrough for Pakistan. We need to forget his past and appreciate his skills.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2005, 4:27 GMT

    Pls allow me to say this:

    i have ABSOLUTELY no problems with ppl from any country or any race and frankly no one should either. Furthermore im at uni in Canada and have an equal number of Indian friends as Pakistani fans, we all get along wonderfully well.

    I just merely called 'insider' an Indian cuz man it happens in Pakistan-India cricket, i know ive tried to downplay many indian sporting acheivements and as such can understand and relate to that experience. It all adds to the fun doesnt it ;) The writer of "Damn Inzy" shud read this post.

    Keep the posts coming, i found these pages today, and as if cricinfo wasnt already the best cricket site around, it has now become the BEST site ever!

    And Angushman Hazra, amazing article, keep them coming.

    There i go again, 3rd post to this article (and within quick succession of each post might i add) when i said "this isnt a forum" haha, cricket makes ppl go wild eh.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2005, 3:20 GMT

    By the way, Shariq, the writer of this piece is an Indian too. But I know you have no problem with that:-)

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2005, 2:57 GMT

    Once again to Insider,

    this is not a forum and we should keep our childish finger pointing and naming names away. However just one final point to clarify, the basic principle of swing is as follows (something you already seem to know about but i'll tell you anyway):

    conventional swing: one side shiny, one not so shiny, ball is newer and harder, goes towards the shine.

    reverse: one side relatievly shiny, other side not shiny but rough because the ball is old. Ball goes towards the rough.

    However whats the partition between the 2 sides of the ball, the seam. In other words to get ANY swing the seam has to be present, especially for reverse. SINCE YOU DO NOT SEEM TO HAVE ANY CLUE WHATSOEVER ABOUT THE SERIES PLAYED BETWEEN ENGLAND IN PAKISTAN APART FROM THE SCORECARDS, heres a little something:

    the balls used were kookabura balls, once the ball gets old the seam presses in and 'disappears' thereby leaving no clear distinction on either side, furthermore the ball is softer because of the pounding it gets everytime it hits the ground. Now then, that would explain why NO English bowlers who became the latest exponents of reverse swing got no reverse at all on this Pakistan tour. Not many people did, Shoaib is NO EXCEPTION. His wickets came of the variation in pace (fast to slow) more than anything else. 3 out of his 5 in Lahore came off slower deliveries, NO SWING whatsoever. Furthermore the ball was swinging when it was new, once again cuz it was hard and had a perfect seam.

    Now just sit back relax, your opinions are your own and no one can impose their thoughts on yours. But i do get this strong suspicion im talking to an Indian supporter here.

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