April 1, 2008

The final episode in the Shoaib soap opera?

This affair is not a drama anymore, just a series of pathetic jousts between an unruly fool and a succession of inept administrations. Where will it end?


Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar were once spoken of together in the same sentence; today they may not share space on the same page © AFP
 

In Pakistan, the rule of the conspiracy theory is complete, possibly because they are so damn good at coming true. It is the grease on which life turns. Pakistan is also a land with no full stops, only commas, brackets and colons, semi and full.

In this land corrupted, exiled politicians can not only not be written off, they can return triumphantly under the charade of national reconciliation, where resignations are sneaky ways to prolong a tenure, where cricketers can admit to doping, be banned and still be reinstated, a land where as former wicketkeeper Rashid Latif says, only the dead cannot be raised again. Here then is another humble conspiracy theory and a sad truth.

Shoaib Akhtar has been banned for five years. Shoaib might very well have his ban overturned soon enough. The beauty of it is, of course, that no one is surprised at his ban and no one will be surprised at its overturning. It happens in Pakistan. It has happened with him before.

Journalists had long ago started whispering among themselves like a gaggle of schoolgirls about Shoaib's attempts to establish contacts within the new government, precisely in event of something like this happening. Before the ink on his ban had dried, he promised to take the battle to court and the member of parliament of his constituency has vowed to bring the matter up in the national assembly.

A new government also means, inevitably, chit-chat about a new cricket administration and if and when there is change, it is the way of Pakistan that all that has gone before is forgotten, if not completely wiped away.

It is the way of Pakistan cricket that no decision, no policy can ever be said to be truly fair and without holes. Is this punishment not too harsh for his latest transgression, which essentially is a verbal blast at the board's policies? After all, he was banned for two years for taking steroids. He now gets five because he pointed out - justifiably as it happens - that the board is run by a group of incompetents?

Perhaps the decision was taken in context of his past, in particular the fact that he was on a two-year probation, a breach of which would automatically result in a life ban? Then why give him five years and not life as had been loudly stated? And in any case, at his age, it is a life ban, so why call a spade a hammer? He was also not a contracted player at the time of the offense having refused to sign the retainership he had been offered. He is not, thus, bound by the code of conduct he is accused of breaking. Already legal eagles are rubbing their hands.

 
 
What does Shoaib leave behind? Nothing really. No legacy; only a blighted, wasted career and a warning to future players on what not to become, and to future administrations on how not to deal with a player
 

But if we play it straight - briefly if ill-advisedly - and believe that he is forever gone, what does Shoaib leave behind? Nothing really. No legacy; only a blighted, wasted career and a warning to future players on what not to become, and to future administrations on how not to deal with a player.

Little needs to be said about his bowling, though perhaps misquoting Marlon Brando from 'On the Waterfront' does it best: he coulda been somebody, he coulda been a great instead, he's just a headline. Forty-six Tests in 11 years is pitiful and barely a basis on which to judge a player. Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar were once spoken of together in the same sentence; today they may not share space on the same page.

A lot more probably needs to be examined about his person though this is not easy, for he has never been easy to read. He is capable of magnanimity, of grand-hearted gestures, selflessness and still the occasional stirring physical act. Yet he is equally capable of barely believable recklessness, stupidity, recurring physical frailty and stark contradiction, often in the same breath. He is, alas, only human.

But how much longer, ultimately, can and should anyone put up with this tiresome, cyclical piffle? Shoaib screws up, PCB warns, Shoaib reacts, PCB punishes, Shoaib appeals, PCB relents: the most inane soap operas offer more entertainment and surprise. It is not a drama anymore, just a series of pathetic jousts between an unruly fool and a succession of inept administrations. Where will it end? Where did it even begin? Not now, maybe not next year, but soon hopefully will come a comma, a semi-colon and these things might start to matter a little less.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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