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Shoaib Akhtar, born August 13, 1975, is one of the most mercurial and fearsome fast bowlers of modern times. Abhishek Mukherjee lists 30 things about the Rawalpindi Express.
There have been fast bowlers; there have been uber-fast bowlers; there have been mercurial uber-fast bowlers; there have been controversial and mercurial uber-fast bowlers; and there has been Shoaib Akhtar. Let us have a look at 30 lesser-known aspects about the Rawalpindi Express.
1. The second of the Shoaib Akhtars
Shoaib was the fifth son of Mohammad Akhtar and Hameeda Awan: the first three, Shahid, Tahir, and Obaid, survived, but Shoaib, the fourth, passed away when he was one. They named the fifth one Shoaib as well, who turned out to be the fastest bowler of his generation. They also had a daughter, Shumaila, 11 years after Shoaib II was born.
2. A childhood in poverty…
Shoaib was not born with a silver spoon; his childhood was spent in a “one-room semi-pucca house,” where the roof needed to be under constant maintenance. Shoaib later wrote in his autobiography Controversially Yours: “I remember feeling cold and bewildered — roofs were not supposed to fall, they were supposed to protect us!” The roof did collapse one night, leaving the family taking desperate measures to protect themselves from rain.
3. … and illness
Shoaib was born flat-footed; he could never maintain his balance and had a tendency of falling down in his early days. At three he was down with a bout of whooping cough; things had taken a turn so bad that his (maternal) grandfather had asked Shoaib’s mother to stop spending money on his treatment and save them for Shoaib’s funeral.
Hameeda, an unusually strong woman, carried her son in her arms across fields and canals to find a tonga (carriage) to take him to Central Hospital for treatment. He was finally cured, but the doctors warned his parents that his lungs will remain weak forever. Contrary to their prediction, Shoaib’s lungs actually expanded; it actually helped him breathe during the longer spells of fast bowling.
4. Mrs Akhtar
Shoaib’s parents did not come from affluent families either. His grandfather had actually given away Hameeda (Shoaib’s mother) to a childless English couple for adoption. Hameeda had stayed with them for a few months, and as Shoaib mentioned, she recalled “being dressed in a frock, having to eat strange food like soup and bread, and being sent to sleep all alone in a room with a high ceiling.”
Hameeda missed her family, and when her brother Riaz came to meet her, she agreed to be smuggled out; she was kept hidden at a relative’s place till her foster parents left for England.
5. Suspended biker
Even as a teenager, Shoaib was fascinated with motorbikes, and, of course, speed. He used to scare people, driving his motorcycle at incredible speeds. Things, however, reached a new level when he got expelled for driving it through the college Principal’s room when the Principal was present. On apologising, the punishment came down drastically to a three-day suspension. It was not the last time that a ban on Shoaib would be reduced drastically.
Talking to the motorcycle while driving was yet another of Shoaib’s idiosyncrasies. When his friend Anwar asked whether the machine ever responded, Shoaib was prompt in response: “Yes, she does, when we are speeding on the road together.”
Even without the motorcycle Shoaib was a maverick at college. When one of his friends informed him that an Islamiyat lecturer of a junior batch had not turned up, he immediately entered the classroom posing as the assistant lecturer. Worse, he went on to conduct a surprise quiz (Shoaib was an expert on Islam even at that age); when the students failed, he banished them outside the class and threatened that he would inform the original lecturer about their poor progress.
7. Rebel forever
Shoaib returned home late one night and was reprimanded. Shoaib took things a level further when he ran away from home in his mid-teens after being reprimanded by his elder brother Shahid (the most level-headed of the siblings). He spent the night at a darga, where he was given food; he also had long conversations about Islam (he was rather enlightened for a boy of his age, as has been mentioned above), which he “could talk about for hours, even at that age”.
He convinced one of the disciples at the darga to give him ten rupees; he ran away again and spent the next night at a friend’s, only to be tracked down by Obaid, another of his brothers. He had to be cajoled, but once he returned, he received a warm welcome back home.
8. The thinking rock
Outside the Akhtar household is a rock that Shoaib refers to as “the thinking rock”. He used to sit on it in his childhood days, mulling over why other children could have feasts and still afford colas and celebrate. Under these dejected circumstances, Shoaib sat for hours on the rock, vowing to himself that he would make it big one day. The rock became the “best friend” of young Shoaib. Even now, at this age, he keeps on going back to the rock for solace.
9. Interactions with giants
There was no stopping Shoaib at any age, even when it came to speaking to legends. Consider this conversation, for example, when Majid Khan appreciated him following a match:
Majid: Son, what is your name?
Shoaib: Shoaib. Very soon everyone will know my name.
Majid: Son, I hope you have your head screwed tightly on your shoulders.
Likewise, Zaheer Abbas:
Zaheer: You are the man I want. Do you want to play for me?
Shoaib: Yes, I will play for you, and soon I will be promoted to play for Pakistan.
It was late in the evening when Shoaib had turned up at Lahore with his friend Ijaz Arshad to attend the trials for Pakistan International Airways (PIA) next morning. Between them they had a sum of PKR 25, and Shoaib eventually tracked down a tonga-walla (carriage driver), whose name, as he later found out, was Aziz Khan. The following conversation ensued:
Shoaib: Salaam! I am going to treat you to a good meal tonight.
Aziz: Who are you?
Shoaib: A cricketer from Pindi.
Aziz: Do you play for Pakistan?
Shoaib: Allah kare (if Allah wants) that too will happen, but right now, I am standing in front of you.
Aziz: Do you really believe that will happen?
Shoaib: Yes, look into my eyes and you will see it.
Aziz: It’s a deal.
Aziz lent his bedding, and the friend spent the night on the footpath; he also treated them, and gave them a free ride to the ground. Shoaib promised he would return to meet him. His parting words were “naam yaad rakhna” (remember my name).
Shoaib did not forget Aziz. By the time he returned from India after the 1998-99 tour he was already a star; one of the first things he did was to put on dark glasses and a false beard to seek out Aziz, who was taken aback:
Shoaib: Main kya si ki main aaunga (I had told you I’d return).
Aziz: Look how many people recognize you and are dying to take you to their homes now.
Shoaib: Yes, but you were the one who gave me shelter when I was unknown, so I recognize you alone and am here to meet only you.
11. Prankster (part 2)
Shoaib was selected for Pakistan A on their England tour of 1996. Agha Akbar, the coach, was a fitness fanatic who used to bang the players heads together to prove his own strength. It was not until the boys complained to the authorities that Akbar stopped his habit.
Akbar’s other fetish was to insist everyone shave before every match, which was almost pointless — given that the boys had minimal facial hair. They hatched up a plan, and — quite expectedly — Shoaib was the one selected to execute it: a duplicate key was made for Akbar’s room; the others kept an eye when Akbar was out as Shoaib entered his room and smuggled his shaving kit.
When Akbar emerged with a “bushy green stubble” next morning the boys did not let the opportunity go; Shoaib, as expected, was the first to comment: “Sir, you haven’t shaved today. That’s unfair! You force us to shave every morning. Double standards, Sir!” Unfortunately, news regarding the identity of the culprit got out, and Shoaib was fined a hefty £55.
12. Crossing ethnic bounds, Shoaib-style
The anecdote dates back from his stint with Starbane Club of Ireland. Shoaib went out with his friend Michael Gillespie to a restaurant in his “finest — white trousers, white shoes, and a canary yellow shirt, the kind you need to shade your eyes to look at.” In his own opinion he resembled Govinda.
He noticed a Caucasian woman at the restaurant, giggling at him; the woman made the first move, reducing poor Shoaib to near-speechless (“any knowledge I had of the English language flew out of my head”). The woman took cue:
Woman: How are you?
Woman: What’ve you been up to?
Woman: Would you like to have a drink with me?
Woman: What would you like to drink?
Shoaib (pointing at orange juice): Good.
Woman: Do you know any other word in English?
Shoaib mentioned that he and the woman became “very good friends”, though his “Irish-laced Punjabi English” accent continued to remain a source of amusement for her and most people across the globe.
13. The rebel resurfaces
Shoaib was selected in the squad for the inaugural Sahara Cup in 1996. However, he was dropped from the squad — obviously, on disciplinary grounds — before the tour started, or rather, before he had made his international debut. He had to work his way back to the Pakistan A team next season.
14. Vusi’s tribute
Shoaib had been a sensation by the time he made the tour to Zimbabwe in 1998. A group of schoolchildren bunked classes to watch him bowl (and hit Murray Goodwin on his head), and though they were dished out a generous caning next day, they felt it was completely worth it. Among the group was a certain Vusimuzi Sibanda.
15. The big wicket
Shoaib had made an impact, but was not a superstar when he landed in India in 1998-99. He was left out of the Test at Kotla (that Pakistan lost), following which a row had broken out between Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. It got so bitter that Waqar had to be sent home. As a result Shoaib became a certainty for the Test at Eden Gardens.
He saw the Indian batsmen having “knocks” at the nets at Eden Gardens and moved across to meet Sachin Tendulkar, and the two got talking:
Shoaib: Do you know me?
Shoaib: You will, soon enough.
Shoaib also had a bet with Saqlain Mushtaq (a great success on the tour), who had marked out Tendulkar as “his” at Eden Gardens, to which Shoaib responded with “No, he’s mine; you can’t take it because it’s my time now.”
Shoaib was confused when the Eden Gardens crowd erupted as he knocked out Rahul Dravid’s stump. He had never witnessed a 90,000-strong crowd cheer the fall of a mainstay of the home side — but then, Tendulkar was already making his way to the crease. He realised the impact Tendulkar had on the crowd. Saqlain pumped him up by poking him in the ribs and adding: “Woh dekh, aa raha hai prize wicket.” (Look, here comes the prize wicket.)
He kept on praying to God: “Boss, I need this one! I need to get him out with his first delivery.” And he did, and went down in sajda: “Thank you, Boss! Thank you!” “I will remember you now,” Tendulkar said as he walked back to the pavilion.
It happened at Brisbane in 1999-2000. As the Pakistan team members got into the coach one by one, Shoaib noticed two children running towards them. The boy was ahead of the girl, and was oblivious to the fact that he was about to be run over by a taxi. Shoaib reacted, diving and rolling out of the way with the boy in his firm grip.
17. When Lillee stepped in
The rendezvous with Dennis Lillee was when Shoaib realised exactly what had been going wrong. Prior to the meeting there had been allegations against him about “chucking”, but it was not until he went to Lillee that he found out that his hand was different from others.
He bowled under video observation, and the results were staggering: when he bowled, his “shoulder joint popped out of the socket and then popped back in, hindering any movement of the elbow”. The elbow was reduced to redundancy. Shoaib was cleared.
18. Signing autograph for a Knight
Shoaib became the (generally accepted) first bowler to cross the 100-mile barrier during the World Cup 2003 encounter against England at Centurion. Hurled at Nick Knight, the ball seemed yet another from Shoaib’s quiver, but the speedometer clocked 161.3 kph (100.23 mph). When a limited edition of photographs of the delivery was released, there was Knight, getting Shoaib to sign a copy for him.
19. No. 11? What no. 11?
In the same match Shoaib whacked around, clobbering the English attack to score 43 in 16 balls with five fours and three sixes batting at no. 11. Not only did he top-score in a total of 134 (he came out at 80 for nine), his score also remains the highest for any no. 11 batsman in ODIs.
20. A deputy gets banned
The selectors took the world by surprise by appointing Shoaib vice-captain for Pakistan’s 2003-04 home series against South Africa. Keeping up with the trend, he was at the receiving end of a lawsuit from a Pakistan citizen for “attending a fashion show on a night of religious significance”. This was followed by a verbal abuse against Paul Adams at Lahore; Clive Lloyd banned Shoaib for one Test and two ODIs.
21. The Lara controversy
As with Tendulkar, Shoaib’s first encounter with Brian Lara (at Rose Bowl in Champions Trophy 2004) turned out to be eventful. Before bowling, Shoaib had a chat with Lara:
Shoaib: Can I say something to you?
Lara: Please do, but don’t be nasty to me.
Shoaib: No, I won’t. It is an honour for me to bowl to you. I have been waiting for this for so long.
Lara: Thank you very much, how about going easy on me then?
There was a chat between Lara and Ramnaresh Sarwan, during which the latter enquired Lara of the conversation. Lara jokingly said that Shoaib had threatened to kill him. The third ball hit Lara on his head. The great man suffered from concussion and had to be rushed to the hospital.
As Sarwan told the press about the conversation (Lara did not face the press at this stage) Shoaib’s image took a beating again; things did not clear up till Lara came out with the true version of the story.
While most eye-witnesses agree to the fact that Shoaib was the fastest bowler of his generation, the speedster himself has a different opinion. While lamenting about how Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) does not take sufficient care of the its bowlers, especially during knee injuries, he wrote in his autobiography: “Mohammad Zahid is the quickest bowler the world has ever seen.”
Shoaib’s ability to eat is well-known. For example, soon after his knee surgery in 2009, he ate seven pieces of KFC chicken in addition to two burgers while still under the influence of anaesthesia. The body revolted, and he had to throw up. Determined not to lose the battle, he had another meal after another hour.
24. All at sea
The story dates back to a Caribbean trip. There were two islands, two kilometres from each other, and Shoaib, along with Wasim and Moin Khan, decided that they could swim the distance. So the trio took off (and raced each other) and ran out of breath midway. They gave up hope, and kept on encouraging each other till they somehow managed to reach the deserted beach.
Once they got their breath back, they realised the bigger problem: how to get back? They kept on waving and jumping on the beach, yelling for help, in full sight of the rest of the team, who were just two kilometres away from the ‘heroes’.
25. The Gangster that never happened
In 2005 Meera, the renowned Pakistani actress, had asked Shoaib whether he was interested in meeting Mahesh Bhatt. Shoaib agreed, and Bhatt flew in when Shoaib was attending a cricket camp in Karachi with a proposal: would he want to act in Gangster, the upcoming Bhatt production?
Unfortunately, PCB did not allow him, and threatened him with a ban. Shoaib’s well-wishers did not want him to go for it either if he really wanted to play cricket. Shoaib agreed: he did not want people to get the idea that he was not a serious cricketer.
26. The Bhai factor
Being a Salman Khan fan is one thing, but fancying himself as a doppelganger is another. While his friends think his eyes tend to pop out of his face, Shoaib is under the impression that his “eyes are nice and big like Salman Khan’s, which isn’t a bad thing because there are many who consider this popular Indian film actor a handsome man.”
27. The inexplicable ban reduction
Shoaib was banned for five years following his assault on Mohammad Asif. However, after Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) selected him for the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL), the ban had mysteriously come down to one month. The IPL selection was itself, well, a bit non-trivial: as Shoaib mentions, it apparently involved a lot of cajoling and coaxing (mainu behla-phusla ke) by Lalit Modi.
Few have been as candid about ball-tampering as Shoaib in his book: “There are so many ways to prepare the ball; it’s not just a matter of scratching it. I have used my boot nails and the zip of my back pocket. Many bowlers put Vaseline or gum on the ball.” Not many would admit to practising one of the most controversial acts of the sport…
As Shoaib has mentioned multiple times, South Africa has always been among his favourite venues — not only because he made his debut there but also because he loved playing at the grounds. He also mentioned another aspect: “The most nudity you will ever see is at a South African cricket ground and the youngsters in our team end up turning their attention to the crowd, when they should be keeping their eye on the ball.” Once again, not many would be so honest about certain aspects of life…
29. Blake says adieu to Bolt
Shoaib formally announced his retirement before Pakistan’s World Cup encounter against Australia in World Cup 2011 — despite clocking 159 kph at Colombo in the tournament. Intikhab Alam (the manager) and Wasim (who was present) all supported his decision, but as news got out, one of the earliest to reach the dressing-room was Brett Lee, the man with whom Shoaib had competed for speed throughout his career: “What have you gone and done, man?” He added: “It’s gonna happen to me as well soon.”
30. Finally, some numbers
Let us finish with some numbers. How devastating a bowler was Shoaib? Let us check the best bowling strike rates with a 150-wicket cut-off:
Similarly with ODIs, with a similar restriction:
Indeed, a much-feared champion of his days.
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