Shoaib Akhtar's roller-coaster career saw many shattered stumps, accusations, match-winning spells, controversies, injuries and comebacks.
He retired from international cricket at the 2011 World Cup, the brutal onslaught by Ross Taylor the last memory of the fast-bowler being seen in action. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Akhtar talks about life after retirement, his biggest regret, IPL's influence on cricket and why Pakistan isn't producing quality fast-bowlers anymore.
You retired almost three years ago. How has life been post retirement?
I was mentally and physically exhausted. I slept it off for two years. I just didn’t know didn’t know any other way to get rid of this tiredness. I slept, slept and slept. Went back to my family – parents, sisters, brothers. It was the family life that I never used to know.
You mentioned a coaching stint. How did that come about?
I never thought about coaching in my playing days. As a fast-bowler you don’t have the temperament. You always want to get the results early. But now, sitting across the rope and telling people what to do, it’s going to be a bit frustrating. But I’ve grown as a man, matured as a person and calmed down a bit. So I thought I should work and pass on the knowledge to youngsters.
How will you go about coaching and creating fast-bowlers?
Look, there’s a fast-bowler and there’s a fast-bowler with attitude. Attitude is when you’re out to dismiss someone. It’s not about abusing or hurting someone. It’s about getting the job done and how you go about doing that. Your blood temperature rises – I was running in and bowling in fever, my blood temperature up to 102F.
You got to be aggressive. That’s what I’m going to try and achieve as a coach. The training method. You need to build a fast-bowler, give them enough confidence. Give them the right guidance. How they should live their life. Love them, nourish them, nurture them and make them a player which they weren’t.
Speaking of guidance, you were often in the news for the wrong reasons. Is this due to lack of guidance?
I always said that Pakistan needed another Imran Khan. I could never get the guidance, the father figure that I needed. From where we come from – the streets – we don’t get the guidance we need. From there to where I am now, whatever we had to learn, we had to learn through making mistakes. There was no other option.
You’ve had a fair share of injuries. How did you career span out for this long?
I was struggling from 1996 onwards and mentally out in 2005. I had terrible pain in my knee. They used to suck the blood out right before every game. People expected me to go out and bowl everyday with such a long run-up and heavy action, not knowing I was struggling and in great pain. I kept having knee surgeries almost every year. Still people expected me to go out and take 500 wickets. I’m flat-footed, my body is a mess and I shouldn’t have been able to play this game. I defy nature. My career span was 2-3 years but I lasted longer because of my mental strength.
When I saw Asif and Amir getting caught, that was a turning point for me. I decided to play for longer because Pakistan didn’t have fast-bowlers then and the team was struggling. I just kept on going. I’m not the biggest patriot sitting here but for love of the country, I’ve done a lot of things and lost out on lot of money. People played me for the wrong reasons and got me unfit.
|Akhtar said farewell to cricket at the 2011 World Cup [GALLO/GETTY]
You retired at the 2011 World Cup. Any regrets over not being included in the playing-XI for the semi-final against India?
The match was all about the first 10 overs and India had too much to lose. There was too much at stake for them – endorsements, huge population, playing against Pakistan, a World Cup semi-final, playing at home and tv rights. I could see that their players were under pressure. They weren’t comfortable.
I asked my team management to let me loose in the first 10 overs. If we crush them then, they won’t be able to get back up. We’d then have the easiest of World Cups to win. I could’ve handled pressure easily. I could’ve put pressure on Sachin and Sehwag and I knew that how to dismiss them.
But they didn’t play me. That’s the biggest regret I have that Pakistan couldn’t win that World Cup.
Pakistan’s performance has gone down on the field and there are many issues at the PCB. Why is that?
The quality of cricket has gone down. Imran, Wasim, Waqar and myself, we were fearless cricketers. We wanted to be out there and dismiss people. Now, Pakistan is lacking talent because they don’t have heroes anymore. We honestly didn’t respect heroes. Look across the border, they’re half as talented but the amount of respect they’re getting.
We need selfless people to come forward and work for Pakistan cricket. We have a journalist as chairman. Would he know how to bowl an outswing? These are minor things. They say ‘we’re managing the board’. What’s there to manage?You have no tv rights and no international teams. People like Nasim Ashraf (former chairman) had a good time at Pakistan’s expense and looted the country. It’s about time some selfless cricketer who loves his country comes forward and does something other than filling his pockets. We need a second Imran, someone who genuinely loves the country, has the ability and the vision.
So why has Pakistan not been able to produce fast-bowlers like Imran, Wasim, Waqar and yourself?
The inspiration was Imran, Wasim and Waqar. After that, the deterioration of Pakistan started. Fixing allegations, internal politics, the dressing room is the worst place to be. There is a bunch of political movements going on there. It never ends.
So the youth’s inspiration is no more. We’ve insulted our heroes openly and after a hero retires, there is no inspiration. Talent needs inspiration. Cricket had to go down because it’s part of our society.
Will the Big3 help cricket revive itself? Is BCCI’s influence good for world cricket?
India has a lot of money and spending a lot on world cricket. It’s right if they take half the share of most of the share. But I’m sure India will look after world cricket as well as Pakistan and will play Pakistan. India’s in turmoil right now but when BCCI sorts itself out, I think India will ensure world cricket survives.
The IPL, has that done any good for world cricket?
I’m happy when cricketers make money. I believe they should be richer than ever before. We struggled earlier, I used to get less than $100 for a one-day game. So this is good. But the players’ goals should be cricket and playing for the national team. You should try and be the best cricketer in Tests, not Twenty20. Play the shortest format but to practice and improve your game. But don’t set goals in there. Instead, set goals in Tests and ODIs. Whatever money you earn from there, put it to good use. Get the shrinks, get the advisors, equipment, trainers and get the right company.
It’s Test cricket that needs to survive. That’s where the real test of character is too. I’d advise boards not to involve too many cricketers in T20 at grass-root level. Let them become good players with temperament for four-day cricket and learn how to bat for two days. Learn how to bowl, how to get people out. That art is dying.
Speaking of boards, what do you make of the ECB’s handling of KP?
The ECB really mishandled him. They could’ve gotten the best out of him. By kicking someone out like this is not the solution. Talent like that doesn’t come through every day.
It’s like me. In my country, they make you scapegoats to save their jobs. I never had a problem with people. People had a problem with me. Never had issues with teammates, I was never revolted against and nobody ever refused to play with me. We’re made scapegoats, we make them controversial.
Shoaib Akhtar was in Qatar for the Doha 6s organised by QSports