A fast bowler's tale February 27, 2006

Shoaib to undergo knee surgery

Shoaib Akhtar: weak in those knees © Getty Images

Shoaib Akhtar will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his knees in Melbourne tomorrow, a process that will shed more light on how serious the degenerative arthiritic condition is and how it will affect his career.

Saleem Altaf, PCB director, told Cricinfo, "The surgery is tomorrow. We spoke to Dr David Young who is handling it and he said the knees weren't in particularly good shape. The left knee is worse apparently than the right one although there is fluid in the right knee."

There have been concerns that the injury could be a career-threatening one; Saqlain Mushtaq was said to have suffered a similar problem a few years back and is currently struggling to make a comeback, having aborted several efforts to do so. Altaf was unwilling to spell out how serious the condition was: "We will know more about it tomorrow after the surgery. It can be a serious thing but it also depends on how Shoaib handles the rehab. After the surgery, he will have a two-month rehabilitation period which takes him to May. That is a minimum period and if he works hard in that time, then he could be fit again for England." Shoaib was understandably concerned and a "little low", according to Altaf before he left for Australia.

A prominent orthopedic surgeon in Pakistan, Dr Mohammad Ali Shah, felt that the degenerative disease was a common injury. "After a certain age, it happens to everyone," he told Press Trust of India. "Domestic people get it after an average of 30 years while sportsmen catch it early because of the stress they put on their knees that perform the duties of shock absorbers. In arthroscopic surgery, we insert a small instrument inside the knee and scruff the damaged portions. It helps to prolong the careers of the sportsmen by three to four years. It is not a serious injury if diagnosed early and operated perfectly."

The injury - and concerns over its seriousness - is another twist in a career with as many twists as a pretzel. Having missed most of last year with a concoction of injury, fitness and disciplinary issues, Shoaib returned to the Pakistan side before the series against England in November and proceeded to have what many believe to be his most successful series. He took 17 wickets, scored valuable runs and helped Pakistan to an important 2-0 Test victory and 3-2 ODI win.

Even in that series there were concerns about his left ankle, especially before the final Test at Lahore but Shoaib played on and did so during the ODIs as well. The ankle flared up again during the final Test in Karachi against India and although he played, he was forced to sit out of the one-day series straight after. During the series, the PCB revealed he was carrying a stress fracture in his left ankle, which ruled him out of the Sri Lanka tour in March.

But news of the latest knee injury has surprised a few people in Pakistan, not least because it has happened so suddenly. It has also emerged amid renewed mutterings of problems with his action. After the Faisalabad Test against India, Greg Chappell was quoted by an Indian TV channel allegedly questioning Shoaib's action. Cricinfo learnt recently that one of the on-field umpires had brought to the team management's notice some concern about Shoaib's action although he had done so privately and no official complaint was lodged.

It is the timing of this injury and enforced absence - coinciding as it does with an increase in speculation about his action - that has got people talking. The PCB, however, has vehemently denied all stories of his action coming under renewed scrutiny. Shaharyar Khan, PCB chairman, told Cricinfo recently, "The ICC has told me there is nothing against Shoaib because if there was it has to come out and be reported to them. No report has been received, nothing has been done and the status quo that his action is fine remains."

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo