Bearing the smile of a satisfied cricketer – one who has withstood bans, fines, multiple injuries and subsequent surgeries, questions about his bowling action, wrath of teammates and fans – Shoaib Akhtar announced his decision to retire from international cricket after the World Cup.
A career spanning over 13 years brought bouts of joy and pain alike but his uncanny knack of stealing the limelight – on or off the field – remained true as he made reporters wait over three hours for a farewell press conference but one that looked well rehearsed and impressive to the core.
“Today I step ahead for the most significant phase of my life and walk off,” Akhtar read from a prepared statement, pausing between words to demand attention and for photographers to get their best shots. “I’ve decided to say goodbye. The coming matches in the tournament will be the last few of my international career.”
Akhtar remained adamant that he would have continued for another two years – mentally he wanted to ‘continue forever’ – but age, fitness levels and the increasing demands of international cricket forced him to implement the decision he thought about around two years ago.
“I decided about retiring around two years ago when I was going through my fourth knee surgery. I realised that I didn’t want to walk away like that so made a promise to myself to work on my fitness, play in the World Cup and play my part for the team as much as possible.”
Injuries and bans – both of various sorts – have forced Akhtar to miss out on 38 of the 84 Tests Pakistan have played since he made his debut but 178 wickets at under 26 – and 247 One-Day International (ODI) scalps from 163 matches – have left the fast-bowler leave the game with no regrets.
“Playing for my country was a dream, one that I thought would never come true. My injuries and hypermobility in the joints have cost me a lot of Tests but with niggles and pains – the most horrifying pain – I never said no to Pakistan.”
His current World Cup has been of mixed fortunes. Impressive against Sri Lanka, he was ripped to pieces by Ross Taylor in an over that not only cost 28 runs but also depicted fitness problems for the 35-year-old. He was subsequently dropped for the match against Zimbabwe but remains hopeful of returning to the playing-eleven for Pakistan’s last group match — against Australia on Saturday.
“I was always known as not-the-fittest bowler around. I always played in pain, always been half unfit. Fitness issues have always been there and still are. But I’ve made a point to walk out on a positive.
“If you look at the last twelve months, I’ve played almost all the ODIs Pakistan have played, bowled my full quota and my efforts are always there for the team.”
Refusing to share his post-retirement plans until ‘a press conference in the near future’, Akhtar did hope to take the field on Saturday and for the quarter-final, efforts for which include increased training for a final swansong in the career with ‘no regrets but countless victories’ while serving the ‘greatest nation on the planet’.
There was a round of applause for the fast-bowler as he sealed off the press conference with a short, emotional speech in Urdu — an immaculate performance. However, with a few million eyes waiting expectantly for Saturday’s team-sheets, his show with the ball in hand will matter more than the words he uttered yesterday.
Makes his Test debut against the West Indies at his home ground in Rawalpindi, taking two wickets
Makes his ODI debut against Zimbabwe in Harare taking one wicket
Akhtar’s action called for the first time, but the ICC allows him to carry on as only his bouncer causes concerns
Dismisses Indian greats Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid off successive deliveries in the Calcutta Test. Earns the famous nickname of the “Rawalpindi Express”
Akhtar’s action called for second time after taking five wickets in New Zealand
Action called for third time in Sharjah, after which the PCB carries out examination at University of Western Australia which concludes that his action is result of “unique physical characteristics” which form the basis of him being cleared
Banned for two ODIs and fined 75 per cent of the match fee for ball-tampering during a tri-series in Sri Lanka
Bowls at 100mph in Pakistan’s match against England at Cape Town, becoming the first bowler in the history of the game to break the 100mph barrier
Banned for one Test and two ODIs for abusing Paul Adams in the first Test against South Africa, after taking eight wickets in the match to help Pakistan win. In second Test against New Zealand, helps Pakistan win with a seven-wicket burst (11 in the match).
Accused of feigning injury after Pakistan lose Test series to archrivals India 2-1
Akhtar and Mohammad Asif test positive for banned steroid nandrolone. Akhtar banned for two years and Asif for one year, bans which were lifted on appeal
Hits Asif with a bat, two days before the World Twenty20 in South Africa. A month later the PCB fines and bans him for 13 ODIs
Excluded from the list of central contracts. A fuming Akhtar criticises the PCB. A disciplinary committee bans him for five years. Punishment reduced to 18 months on appeal, but fine imposed
PCB drops him from World Twenty20 squad
Selected in Pakistan’s World Cup squad, despite coach Waqar Younis saying he is not 100 per cent fit
Announces he will retire after the World Cup
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2011.