Pakistan cricket September 26, 2011

Shoaib feels the heat of his own inferno

Indeed, you might not know Shoaib Akhtar as a comedian but, almost by accident, he has made the world laugh

You might not know there is a vogue for autobiographies by comedians. Indeed, you might not know Shoaib Akhtar as a comedian but, almost by accident, he has made the world laugh. Shoaib is a rare cricketer from his joint hyperextensions to his neuronal synapses. His career has been a journey of scandal interrupted by infrequent displays of brilliance. He is a captivating character on the field of play and an infuriating personality off it. He might even have been great had the fates and his own failings not wrecked his career trajectory.

Perhaps that is the fiercest motivation behind his autobiography, 'Controversially Yours'? A rare man damns his own deeds; far more palatable to damn the deeds of others. Shoaib prefers j'accuse to mea culpa.

Shoaib has a point. A more professional cricket board and better team leadership might have guided him more wisely through the scandals that besieged him. The throwing controversy and how it was handled by international umpires and the ICC was not his fault, but much else was. When a man of Bob Woolmer's consummate loyalty and patience despairs of you, you'd be sensible to look inwards for the source of your problems.

Shoaib hasn't looked inwards, he has struck out against the world safe in the knowledge that his cricketing career is over. That is his prerogative, to end on a sour note with former teammates and adversaries. If he doesn't rate Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid higher than Ricky Ponting or Viv Richards then fair enough, plenty of other cricketers would agree with him. Imran Khan, Shoaib's hero, whose more considered autobiography has just been released doesn't think Tendulkar comes close to Richards either.

Did Sachin fear Shoaib? Who knows? It was only Pakistan's madcap fast bowler who stared into the maestro's eyes in the heat of battle. A personal opinion requires neither reprimand nor apology, as reportedly demanded by the BCCI.

Of the rest, nothing seems particularly new, a rerun of old rivalries, intrigues, and badmashies. Capturing the world according to Shoaib is a worthy effort. He is a difficult man to pin down in a verbal joust. Ask him about Sachin and he'll tell you about Brian Lara. He will mumble incoherently in English and end with no greater clarity in Urdu. He will use a torrent of words -- many in common usage, some of his own invention -- in an unpredictable order and manage to say nothing at all.

Shoaib remains an entertainer, a legend in his mind's eye--simply the best, better than the rest. He deserves respect for some of the incredible spells he produced during a tarnished career. He deserves sympathy for the way his cricket board and a succession of captains found it impossible to mentor him. But his career was left unfulfilled by dint of his own misdemeanours as much as, if not more than, by the malice of his enemies.

One of the fascinations of human existence is that we might all experience the same events but we will interpret them in our own, possibly very different ways. That is the power of autobiography. It is one view, a chance at explaining how you saw it without fear or contrition, and Shoaib saw that the world was against him. He also saw an opportunity to grab the limelight, to diss and tell.

In that moment of mad self-promotion, a moment that the media was happy to help sensationalise, the story of Shoaib Akhtar managed to overshadow the greater history of Imran Khan's life in cricket and politics, and the lesser landmark of Waqar Younis coaching Pakistan to a whitewash over Zimbabwe in his farewell series. Unfortunately, Shoaib's achievements take far fewer words to catalogue than his love of controversy. In autobiographies, there is usually no smoke without fire but the heat you feel from the blaze depends on how the central character has read the smoke signals. Shoaib saw an inferno. The marketing team for his publishing house did the rest.

Every man, Shoaib Akhtar included, has a right to make a fool of himself, especially in his autobiography.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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