Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Shoaib Akhtar, The Rawalpindi Express - Pakistani Fast Bowling Greats

Pakistan, a nation known to produce genuinely talented fast bowlers by the minute, were looking for the next in their long assembly line after Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed. In the late 1990’s there emerged from the shadows of all these hallowed greats, a bowler who went on to become the fastest bowler the world had ever seen. He was charismatic, vibrant and belligerent yet he was gentle and jovial off the field. In this concluding part of the ‘Pakistani Fast Bowling Greats’ Series I will look at Shoaib Akhtar who blew oppositions away by his sheer pace.

Shoaib Akhtar

Shoaib burst on the scene in the late 1990’s when Wasim and Waqar were still a part of the Pakistan team but they were now ageing stars and Pakistan was on the lookout for a young talent. Shoaib was the perfect embodiment of a fast bowler, he was aggressive, he was quick and always in the face of the opposition batsmen. He loved a battle and he had attitude and he had searing pace to back it all up.

For all his talent Shoaib had a modest start to his test career picking up only 18 wickets after 8 test matches. It was in 1999 that he truly announced himself. First he had a very good World Cup in 1999 in England where Pakistan reached the finals and later in the Asian Test Championship in India. It was in a packed Eden Gardens that he literally blew away two of the finest test batsmen India had ever produced off successive deliveries with his sheer pace, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar both getting bowled off fast and late swinging deliveries.

Shoaib wanted to be the fastest bowler in the world and he never hid that ambition of his. He achieved his dream when he bowled the fastest ball ever recorded against England in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa when he clocked 161.3 kmph and broke the 100 mph barrier in cricket.

Shoaib played 178 test match wickets in 46 matches while he claimed 247 wickets in the 163 ODI matches that he represented Pakistan in. A bowler of Akhtar’s persona and charisma can never be judged by his numbers alone and the impact that he had on the game goes much beyond mere strike rates and averages and economy rates.

Shoaib and controversies went hand in gloves throughout his career. He was suspended for ball-tampering, suspected of an illegal action, he had conflicts with his own captain, team-mates and the board, he was accused of indiscipline and lack of commitment towards Pakistan, got embroiled in doping scandal not to mention the long list of injuries he suffered.

Shoaib was an enigma, a true showman and a high impact player. Akhtar steaming in from his long run up, his dishevelled mane flowing in his face and his enormously bulging muscles heaving and puffing made for an intimidating sight. The fact that he could hurl the cricket ball at speeds that were almost unimaginable coupled with his in your face attitude made him the most Fantastico sight when in full flow.

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