Now that he has announced that he will be retiring after the end of the World Cup, speedster Shoaib Akhtar’s career is being subjected to historical revisionism. Looking at it through rose-tinted glasses, he is being lauded for being perhaps the fastest bowler ever, for his devil-may-care attitude and winning personality and, above all, for all those occasions when he decimated batting line-ups. It is only fitting that he be remembered for these since they are a large part of the legend that is Shoaib Akhtar. Shoaib started his career when the incomparable Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were ending theirs and there were fears that Pakistan’s assembly of fast bowlers would dry up. Luckily we got Shoaib, a bowler who’s interminable run-up and unimaginable speed were among the most exciting things to ever happen to Pakistan cricket.
And there were the legendary spells. Who can forget the time he ran through the Australian batting line-up in an ODI in 2002? Or his classic deliveries that clean-bowled Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar and stunned a partisan crowd at Eden Gardens into silence? In Shoaib’s case, the numbers tell only part of the story. His 178 Test wickets at an average just below 26 speak of a fine bowler, but hardly one who will go down as a legend. This ignores the fact that from 1999-2005, there was no bowler as thrilling as Shoaib Akhtar.
It would be remiss, even at a time when he has just announced his retirement, not to mention, though, how Shoaib’s on-field achievements are eclipsed by his off-field antics. During his career, Shoaib missed more than half the Tests played by Pakistan through injury, bans for drug-taking, bans for beating up his teammates and bans for ball-tampering. Shoaib followed the beat of his own drum but even in a team sport that accommodates mavericks, he was a step too far. He considered himself above the rules and he damaged his career because of that. Shoaib Ahtar will never be forgotten but, above all, he will be remembered for depriving himself — and us — of much of his talent.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2011.