Shoaib Akhtar: 14 interesting facts about the maverick who terrorised batsmen, teammates and administrators

Shoaib Akhtar, born August 13, 1975, is one of the fastest bowlers to have ever played the game. A colourful character, both on and off the field, Shoaib polarised teammates and fans. He was simultaneously beloved and despised but never out of the limelight. On his 42nd birthday, Shiamak Unwalla takes a look at 14 interesting things to know about the man whose mercurial tendencies made him a pain for administrators, but whose pace made him a vital cog in Pakistan’s attack.

1.  A rough beginning: Shoaib was born in Rawalpindi, Punjab, which is why he got his famous “Rawalpindi Express” nickname. But it was not always smooth sailing; he was born into a poor family that lived in, according to his autobiography Controversially Yours, a “one-room semi-pucca house.”

2.  Training with rocks: The young Shoaib was inventive; in order to develop muscles to bowl fast, he would throw bricks on the mountains near his home, and bowl using rocks picked up off the ground. Shoaib revealed in an interview with The Cricket Monthly that his friends used to think he was mad for doing so, but the entire exercise gave him the necessary muscles to bowl fast. In years to come, he emerged as one of the fastest bowlers the game had ever seen.

3.  Fastest-ever World Cup delivery: Shoaib and Brett Lee were perhaps the fastest bowlers of their generation, and the two used to have a fierce yet friendly rivalry over which of them would bowl faster. Shoaib won the battle when he bowled the fastest ever delivery recorded in World Cup history. Bowling the fourth over of the innings in Pakistan’s match against England in ICC Cricket World Cup 2003, Shoaib sent down what seemed like an innocuous delivery on Nick Knight’s pads. Neither bowler nor batsman seemed very fazed, but a moment later the speed was shown on the big screen: 161.3 kmph or 100.2 mph. Shoaib had broken the 100mph barrier in World Cup cricket.

4.  No mug with the bat: Shoaib was far from reliable with the bat, but he was no mug either. When he was in the mood he could use those admirable biceps of his to muscle the ball well over the ropes. He proved this on a few occasions. Firstly, in that same match against England, Shoaib came in to bat at 80 for nine, faced 16 balls, and hit 43. Pakistan still lost the match, but Shoaib thrilled the crowds with five fours and three sixes. He also had a couple of Test 40s against India, one of which came when Irfan Pathan took a hat-trick in the first over of the Test at Karachi in 2006. Coming in at 154 for 7, Shoaib was the last man out for 45 as Pakistan eventually recovered to get to 245.

5.  The nonconformist: Never quite the teacher’s pet, Shoaib often got into fights with his teammates and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). There were numerous bans and suspensions, the most notable of which was when he hit teammate Mohammad Asif with a bat. Apparently Shahid Afridi and Asif had been having fun at Shoaib’s expense after a bad day in the office, and Shoaib retaliated by swinging the bat, though Asif might not have been the target. Co-incidentally, Shoaib and Asif were suspended after failing a dope test some time before this incident.

6.  Help from “Boss”: Shoaib was still relatively unknown when he toured India in 1999. Playing the second Test at Eden Gardens, Shoaib prayed to God to help get Sachin Tendulkar out early. Shoaib wrote in his autobiography that he prayed to “Boss” to get Tendulkar out first ball. Sure enough, the iconic yorker followed and Tendulkar walked back for a golden duck. A ball prior, he had sent back Rahul Dravid in a similar fashion.

7.  Working through the pain: Like most express pace bowlers, Shoaib was never without niggles. However, his weak knees were especially painful. Shoaib revealed that he used to crawl and limp while off the field, going so far as to say, “I can’t remember a day I didn’t have pain in my knees for the last 18 years.”

8.  Fast but not furious? Shoaib told The Cricket Monthly that he did not enjoy it when he hit batsmen. “I never enjoyed hitting people. I never ever enjoyed hitting people. Not for one second of my life.” He immediately proceeded to contradict himself though, saying that if he could not get the batsman out then he would “love” to hit them. Typical Shoaib!

9.  Brawn and brain: As fast as Shoaib was, he was far from dull. He related an incident in which he bowled Matthew Hayden a couple of short balls and once he knew he had the batsman on the back foot, bowled him with a yorker. Shoaib said that he had two fielders whose job was to observe the batsmen’s footwork and report back to him. Shoaib was also skilful; on being unable to dismiss a rampaging Virender Sehwag in one Test, Shoaib claims to have developed a method of bowling into the stumps and slanting the ball across the batsman. He claims to have got Sehwag and also Sachin Tendulkar out in this manner.

10.  The fastest bowler… According to Shoaib himself the fastest bowler he ever saw in action was Mohammad Zahid, who took 11 wickets on Test debut against New Zealand but only ever played five Tests and 11 ODIs.

11.  Anti-net practice: Shoaib was ardently opposed to bowling in the nets because even if a bowler gets hit, he would not have to suffer the “humiliation” of going for a boundary. Shoaib said that if the bowler is hit for runs in a match it will hurt and he will be sufficiently motivated to bowl well. Of course, this aversion to net practice did not stop Shoaib from bowling full throttle at his own batsmen, so much so that Mohammad Yousuf once jokingly asked Shoaib not to hit him.

12.  Scared to bowl: Tendulkar’s epic 98 against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup has gone down in history as one of the finest ever World Cup knocks, while his upper cut for six over point off Shoaib is frequently cited as one of the most memorable shots in recent times. Wasim Akram later revealed that Shoaib was so put off by that shot that he asked the captain Waqar Younis to take him off the attack. However, it was Shoaib who later got Tendulkar’s wicket. 

13.  His biggest nightmare… Despite Shoaib’s rivalry with Tendulkar, he said that his biggest nightmare was bowling to Dravid. “The biggest nightmare I ever faced was Rahul Dravid. He used to bore me. He was the first batsman who could intimidate me…when he walked in I knew I would have to field for at least two sessions more.” [Also Read: Shoaib Akhtar calls Sachin Tendulkar a “brutal force”; compares Rahul Dravid to “Muhammad Ali”]

14.  Critical of teammates: Shoaib has rarely shied away from criticising his teammates, frequently speaking out against the likes of Waqar Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq. After Pakistan’s poor showing during ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Shoaib went on a tirade on TV against Younis Khan and Misbah, blaming them for Pakistan’s failure. He said of Misbah, “Itna buzdil kaptaan maine Pakistan ki history mein nai dekha (I have never seen such a cowardly captain in Pakistan’s history).”

(Shiamak Unwalla is a proud Whovian and all-round geek who also dabbles in cricket writing as a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)