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Shoaib Akhtar to retire after World Cup

Osman Samiuddin in Colombo

March 17, 2011

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Shoaib Akhtar smiles while announcing his retirement, Colombo, March 17, 2011
Shoaib Akhtar announces his retirement in Colombo © AFP

Shoaib Akhtar will retire from the international game at the end of Pakistan's World Cup, bringing to a close one of cricket's most compelling and mercurial careers. Privately, over the last few months, Shoaib had been looking at the World Cup as a final hurrah for a body increasingly unable to cope with the rigours of the international game.

On Wednesday evening, at a Pakistan High Commission function in Colombo, he told a handful of reporters, including ESPNcricinfo, that he would make the announcement on Thursday. After Pakistan's training session at the Premadasa, Shoaib arrived in jacket and trousers and told the press of a decision he had made, fittingly for him perhaps, in a hospital bed after yet another knee surgery two years ago.

"Today I step ahead for the most significant phase of my life and walk off," he read out from a prepared statement. "I have decided to say goodbye. This World Cup is my last and the coming matches in the tournament would be the last few of my international career. Mentally I wanted to continue perhaps forever. But I must make way for youngsters to take over."

He said he had discussed the matter with the team management during the tour to New Zealand earlier this year, but decided to go ahead with it only now, dousing speculation that he might have been pushed into it. His Pakistan team-mates were told of the decision at the Premadasa on Thursday morning during an emotional gathering in the dressing room, where he delivered a farewell speech and was embraced by fellow players and support staff.

"There was sadness there," Shoaib said of the occasion, before joking that a retirement on his own terms was unique enough to shock them. "The whole team knew this was going to happen but they didn't want to believe this was going to happen because they played with me long enough. They were very sad about it but at the same time happy for me, for my next few matches, whatever is left in me. It might seem a little awkward to them as this is the first time in Pakistan that someone is leaving cricket on this note. Felt a little awkward. So, I would say they were a little shocked."

The tournament itself has been a mixed one for him. Whether or not he gets another chance to script a different ending, which currently has him being hit for 28 runs in his last over by Ross Taylor, including the last ball for six, is likely to be the subject of much speculation ahead of Saturday's game against Australia. He was outstanding through ten overs in Pakistan's win over Sri Lanka, but his fitness and energy, particularly during later spells, has concerned the Pakistan team set-up.

The best Shoaib bowled to

  • "I wouldn't say I enjoyed bowling against them but they are my very top of the favourites. Inzamam is there. I loved bowling against [Adam] Gilchrist, I loved to hate him but he was very tough. Ricky Ponting was another great. This guy not only played, but he won matches, he had so much ability. I really wish to see him play for another few years for Australia. Then my favourite, Brian Lara, who was so elegant I lost myself in his elegance. I only bowled three balls to him, and they were my favourite three balls, but I felt very sad when I hit him and he had to leave the ground. But these are the players I really, really enjoyed bowling against. I wish I could, but it's my good luck that I never bowled to that guy Viv Richards. That is my good luck."

As if released, he fairly sprinted in to bowl in the nets, running in faster and bowling - to the naked eye at least - quicker than he has been. He believes he could've played on for another year or two, but for the moment, he said, he will do everything he can for his side in the World Cup.

"I am available for every match and working really hard and bowling as quick. My pace is still there, I am not slowing down. My pace is up there. Playing is up to the management. I am going to double my efforts. Any possible way I can help Pakistan, and with every ounce of blood that is left in my body, I will serve my country. I play or if I don't play I don't know, but I'm working hard, I'm training hard. I had a great session today. I'm focusing on the match against Australia. If I don't play I will make sure every guy gets my help and if nothing else then I will carry water onto the field."

A myriad of off-field run-ins with the establishment and players - he smiled mischievously when thanking "my dear PCB" - and an endless list of injuries heavily curtailed his career, impact and legacy. He played in only 46 of the 84 Tests Pakistan played since his debut in November 1997 and 163 ODIs - a relatively small number for a subcontinent player - in over 13 years. This tournament has been typical. Questions over his fitness have been ever-present and he has been fined by the team management for several breaches of curfew, as well as for a spat with Kamran Akmal during and after the New Zealand loss. Yet, Shoaib insisted, he would not have done it differently.

Shoaib Akhtar bowls in the nets, Colombo, March 17, 2011
Shoaib Akhtar seemed to run in quicker and bowl faster after making his decision © AFP

"Whenever I had a chance, even with niggles and during the pain and the most horrifying days of the pain, I still never said no to Pakistan," he said. "I always made myself available. There are no regrets. You always knew me as not the fittest man or bowler. I always played in pain. I always played half-unfit. So the fitness issue has always been there, still there.

"This was written in my life and it had to happen. It's part of the process that you grow up and go through such times and you grow out of it. You become 35 and you get mature. We come from a very humble background. We always learn that cricket is our institution and we learn swimming, driving, anything you name it we learn from there. So obviously you've got to give us a bit of a chance, a span of 10-15 years to learn. There are no moments I regret."

Even in this interrupted, half-full career, there were enough Shoaib moments for his time of passing to be a genuinely sad one. The two balls to silence Eden Gardens were, understandably given his thirst for big-name scalps, among his own highlights. The 100mph ball in the 2003 World Cup was another but the most memorable was a simpler one, a surprising one perhaps, of the moment he first wore the Pakistan Test kit.

"The first day, when I got announced for Pakistan, I did not believe that someone like me could play for this greatest team ever," he said, unable to suppress a smile. "And there were my idols like Wasim and Waqar, and Imran was there to support us every now and again … Inzamam, everyone, every senior player I used to see on TV. I always dreamed of playing with them. The best moment was when I got the first kit for my first Test and I had a huge star on my chest. I wore that kit and I slept in it and I couldn't believe I would wake up in it. I did not take it off for three days."

Towards the end, there was the distinct possibility of tears - "do you want me to cry?" he asked when translating his thoughts into Urdu - but he held them back. "Playing for Pakistan was a dream. Yes, it was a dream," he said and then walked off, to hugs and handshakes all around.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 696 
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Posted by Dummy4 on (March 20, 2011, 21:53 GMT)

Shoaib bhai u r my all time fav. bowler and definitely the most devastating fast bowler in the history of cricket .... Cricket lovers will miss u and u'll be remembered forever!! plz don't leave cricket area come back as commentator or bowling coach ... Tears in my eyes and hav a heavy heart after heard ur retirement news!! proud to be ur fan!! LonG Live Shoaib akhtar!!

Posted by Jonathan on (March 20, 2011, 18:52 GMT)

For what it worth, it was a joy to watch him bowl. The run-up, the whip, the delivery when on song. What most people don't realize how gentle Shoaib actually was, with his pace, he could have easily hurt a lot of people but he seldom threatened players with the short stuff. He never really hurt the tail-enders who others certainly have terrorize. Thanks for all the exciting entertainment Shoaib. I believe if it was not for Kamran Akmal the last match that you have played against NZ would have had different outcome. But one again thanks for being honest & worthy keeper of the game. Best of luck for future, May God bless you.

Posted by Syed Uzair on (March 20, 2011, 18:10 GMT)

"Whenever I had a chance, even with niggles and during the pain and the most horrifying days of the pain, I still never said no to Pakistan,"...:'(

Posted by Syed Moazzam on (March 20, 2011, 17:17 GMT)

you are a legend, world of cricket will miss you

Posted by Muhammed on (March 20, 2011, 15:46 GMT)

Thats great to see almost 700 comments for the legend.love shoaib alot . And i think we really missed Shoaib at the match against Australia. We cud ve win this match so easily has he been there in the team. I hope pakistani selectors will give him a chance in finals. INSHALLAH

Posted by Asad on (March 20, 2011, 13:49 GMT)

Undoubtedly, Sachin Tendulkar is the best batsman of our time and Shoaib Akhter dismissed him at least seven times. At the time when spinners like Shane Warne, Saqlain Mushtaq, Anil Kumble and Murli were making headlines, Shoaib Akhter provided extreme entertainment to the cricket lovers.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 20, 2011, 8:42 GMT)

Shoaib Akhtar U r The Magician of pace bowling..I love u I dont know i would watch any other match missing u..U a Legend a True Legend ur legacy shall prevail forever. U'r the Best BEST BEST Thumbs uppp...........If there is something like re-birth I would love to watch u Young again with furious bowling..oh i get emotional when u say Good Bye Cricket..MISS U Cricket will MISS u...good luck n Do stay in touch with the team..Farewell

Posted by Asif on (March 19, 2011, 23:18 GMT)

Despite all the controversies and issues I just wana say that Pakistan loves you and I am in tears. Fans will miss that threatning glare to the batsman that was the trademark of RWP express. Good luck and thanks for serving "Crescent and Star"

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 19, 2011, 19:47 GMT)

Surely, cricket will miss its fastest and one of the most exciting bowler! though in shock, we liked it when he got the stumps flying for Sachin & Dravid's wickets in a test match!

Posted by daniyal on (March 19, 2011, 10:28 GMT)

Best of luck shoaib No one can replace u :)

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Osman SamiuddinClose
Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.
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