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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Natty on April 4, 2008, 6:28 GMT

    You write well and what you say makes a lot of sense. But there is one thing about Shoaib that no one can deny - he is great to watch. I love it when he charges in from his long run-up and bowls at the speeds he does. It's a thrill when he bowls those huge in-swinging yorkers or his bouncers. He is one of the bigger attractions in cricket, and I personally hope that he does take part in the IPL so that we can see him bowling once more.

  • shams on April 4, 2008, 2:48 GMT

    I hope they turn the verdict. I hope he comes back. I hope he matures. I hope he plays like a gentleman. I hope he realizes that he has but a few years. I hope he returns to spice up cricket world. I want to see Bret Lee and Shoaib go at it one last time, for that would make history.

    Can some one give him this message? Can some one tell him, to be written among legends he has to correct his wrongs? Can some one tell him to be a legend he has to be humble? Can some one wake him up? Alas! Can someone wake me up?

  • Wasim on April 3, 2008, 11:36 GMT

    Whenever he was ruled out or dropped, he always came back with better performances. Every fast bowler gets injuries, but difference between him and others is clear; there is a decline in others' performances after injuries, but in his case injuries doesn't seem to affect his performance. How could you waste such an asset? He is more than 30 and still energetic, when fit.

    You look frustrated Osman and quite rightly so. This all has been happening in Pakistan for ages and I think politics should be kept away from the game. Maybe a time will come sooner or later when they will quit playing games where not needed.

  • Alastair on April 3, 2008, 11:30 GMT

    Yep Osman you have it. The rest of the world stands back and watches Pakistan beat itself. The point of understanding is somewhere beyond all of our visions. I love Pakistan cricket. Pakistan is the only cricketing nation who could have seriously challenged Australia on a consistant basis over the last twenty years. In any political incarnation, man for man, they have talent and back up talent in buckets. Then along comes ingredient X - which is the very fact that they are who they are and they do what they do in a way which totally and utterly epitomises the dictionary definition of 'inscrutable' Maybe in this case they are very scrutable - a five year ban in Pakistan? Probably the equivilant of a 200 year jail sentence in Texas. If Shoaib doesnt play again, I will, as we say in Yorkshire - ''eat hay with a donkey'' The question - like the Harmison one for England is ''do they really want him too?''

  • Saadullah on April 3, 2008, 9:08 GMT

    Great article Osman and as you mentioned state of our national cricket is a direct reflection of our country's progress and it is just sad.

  • Peter on April 3, 2008, 4:04 GMT

    What a beautifully written piece Osman... a pleasure to read. Thank you.

    As for Shoaib, he should pull himself together, play another dozen test against the Black Caps (taking, say, a further 150 wickets at 10.00) and then retire as one of the greats.

  • Imran on April 2, 2008, 21:57 GMT

    With all due respect, I think you are missing the greater point in your article - that is these puppet board of a dictator should have no right to end anyone's career. I thought that until now Shoaib was doing a fantastic job of destroying himself as a cricketer; however now he can only be considered a victim. Agreed that it is pakistan and phrase "sh$t happens" may be appropriate for this; but this must change and can't be acceptable just because it is pakistan.

  • yousaf on April 2, 2008, 21:37 GMT

    Shoaib has always caused worries to his fans and team through his fitness issues all the times and never has anyone seen him playing a regular season year without injuries or bans. He is still a need for Pakistan's ever unfit bowling line-up, at least for next 2-3 years till we find a replacement. Asif came to fame and now he has been consistently unfit along with the only remaining bowler Umar Gul. How does the PCB justify degrading a category-A player demoted to not B or C but a class lower at retainership? How does one give Kaneria a reprimand and Shoaib a 5-year ban for same crime?

  • mustafa on April 2, 2008, 20:29 GMT

    Osman.....i seriosly dont agree with u..how can u forget the goods Shoib produced for Pakistan?U might forget his bowling in da 1999 world cup,or da only bowler who took a great bowler such as Sachin in a first ball duck,or u forgot Shoibs bowling against the Aussies and the English players...Ok we know he is aggressive,but the whole Australian team is aggressive so this doesnt mean to ban the whole Aussie team.We know Shoib also have done many mistakes but most of the cases could be handled well.And since this Nasim Ashraf became the chairman of Pakistan we lost many talents such as Imran Nazir,Mohsmmad Sami,Abdul Razzaq....and now an asset to worl cricket the fastest bowler in the history..they should really bring Shoib back if Pakistan is willing to win the champions trophy in pakistan later this year...and u also need shoib to win against countries like India,South Africa,Aussies,etc.And pakistan also doesnt have a replacement of Shoib's speed.So they can't ban him for any reason

  • Jawwad on April 2, 2008, 20:19 GMT

    I agree that the PCB has not handled the Shoaib-saga efficiently and that Shoaib has acted irresponsibly throughout his career. However, I didn't like the idea that how the writer has supported his thoughts by resembling them with the political situation and system in the country. Incidents like these in which the sports authority initially bans the player and later lifts the ban on an appeal are not uncommon. One can easily recall incidents involving Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Darryl Hair and Herschelle Gibbs in which the ban was lifted. Therefore it is inappropriate to criticize and the Pakistani-system. It is a broader world.

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