Akhtar trudging along, at his own pace
They say your life flashes in front of your eyes as death approaches.
The good, the bad, the best moments you lived through are replayed in a short burst that makes you realise the worth, the joy and the sheer existence of it all, the reasons behind who you were, are and could have been.
The last few months of Shoaib Akhtar’s career have followed the same pattern. His early worth paved way for injuries – of various types at numerous points in his life – and age got the better of his speed. He was shot down throughout his career, at every instance he broke down with a dodgy knee or under scrutiny for breaking a curfew. The hair style kept changing but the attitude remained defiant. He missed more than he played but insisted he wanted to play more.
Akhtar last played a Test over three years ago and has a solitary wicket to show for his efforts. But wickets never defined his career. His aggression, commitment – questionable at times – to the cause, intent and the lust for living a ‘normal’ life as a cricketer aided his ascent to stardom but played its fair share in the constant tugging to pull him off it.
He hasn’t taken more than three wickets in a One-Day International (ODI) since October 2007 but in the 29 ODIs since then, he was left hoping for an ‘effort’ column next to the wickets taken. Since the Asia Cup last year that marked his comeback after more than twelve months in hibernation, Akhtar has featured in almost every ODI Pakistan has played — a testament not only to his revitalised fitness levels, but also his attitude towards the team and the sport, and the need to end on his own accord.
Akhtar said he decided to retire after the World Cup while on the surgery table. The cause towards shedding weight at the attempt of increasing his stamina falls right into place now. He wanted to walk out and not be pushed, to have a chance of a final swansong and a parting statement instead of following his idols’ footsteps and being shunned by the evil world that is Pakistan cricket.
For that, the run-up was shortened but the hostility remained at par with his younger days. The ball didn’t leave his hand as fast as it did but it was fast enough. The image of a stunned Eden Gardens, a shocked Stephen Fleming and an injured Brian Lara epitomises the fast-bowler as a force, an image the various bans, doping violations, hitting his teammates, the warts, and speaking out against his ‘dearest Pakistan Cricket Board’ fell flat against in comparison.
And as he lit up and looked in the distance after one of his finest performance’s off the field in the press conference, with Colombo stretched out in front of him, Akhtar looked every sort the hero that walks away into the shadows, content with his effort. He gave cricket a lot and his fans a lot more. The search for a replacement will never start for Pakistan can neither produce nor afford another Akhtar.
The writer is the Sports Editor of The Express Tribune
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2011.
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