Shoaib the fastest I've faced - Ponting

Shoaib Akhtar bowls in the nets AFP

Ricky Ponting has congratulated Shoaib Akhtar on "an outstanding career" and said Akhtar was unquestionably the fastest bowler he had faced while playing for Australia. The two men could face off one final time in Colombo on Saturday, after Akhtar announced he would retire at the end of the World Cup, and Ponting said he would always remember the battles they had shared.

"I had some great duels with Shoaib over the years," Ponting said. "To this day, I've always said he's the fastest bowler that I've ever faced in international cricket. There's one spell that everyone can watch on the internet of him bowling to me at the WACA. That was reasonably entertaining - more so for Justin Langer, who was at the other end laughing at me all the time when I was trying to keep Shoaib's deliveries out.

"He was express pace, a very, very good bowler. Over the years he's had his fair share of injuries that have not allowed him to play as much as he would have liked. But even in this tournament so far, you can see that he's still got it with the new ball. He still has good pace, and his experience has helped him at different times as well. Congratulations to him on what has been an outstanding career."

Shoaib made his decision known to his team-mates on Thursday morning at an emotional gathering where he delivered a farewell speech and was embraced by fellow players and support staff.

"We feel sad for Shoaib as he has been a very nice team-mate and we'll always remember him as someone who always tried hard for the team and every player thanks him," Shahid Afridi, the Pakistan captain, said.

The Pakistan coach Waqar Younis added: ""I played with him and then coached him. He has been a great bowler for the country and served the team well. It is a nice way to leave the place for youngsters and that's something we must appreciate."

Several former Pakistan captains also paid tribute to Shoaib. "I would like to remember him as a tear-away bowler who with his strike-rate was a match-winner on his day. He battled through injuries and controversies with a lot of heart throughout his career," Ramiz Raja, now a television commentator, said.

Rashid Latif claimed Shoaib was the fastest bowler he kept wicket to. "He was amongst the most glamorous cricketers of all time," Latif said. "He was famous for his attitude but let me tell you he was down to earth and never been a problem for me when I was his captain. The only worry for me was his pace, quite easily he was the fastest bowler I kept to."

Aamer Sohail added it would be difficult for Pakistan to find a replacement for Shoaib. "When I captained him I found him to be very responsive and eager to perform for the country. He has done the right thing to retire now but it will take time for someone to take his place.

"He has set a good precedent for the future generation of cricketers."