Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
With a five year-ban on playing for Pakistan and a $3.65 million defamation suit slapped against him by the country’s cricket board chief, fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar has his hands full, even by the standards of his tumultuous cricketing career.
Is this the end of the road for the pin-up boy of Pakistani cricket and one of the most recognisable figures of his country ? A tragic victim, at age 32, of his success, talent, fame and showmanship?
For many of us, there is no better sight in cricket than watching Shoaib steaming in to bowl, raw pace at its best and the crowds in a packed stadium behind him. The “Rawalpindi Express” crossed the 100 mile per hour speed barrier in the 2003 World Cup and there aren’t many in international cricket that quick.
This week as he arrived in India to play in an Indian Premier League after the Pakistani cricket board temporarily suspended the ban on him and the defamation suit was withdrawn following a public apology by Shoaib, the buzz was starting to pick up in the cricket-mad region.
For Shoaib, for all his indiscipline, late nights, missed training sessions and even a doping scandal, can still turn a match on its head and the crowds love it. His record of 178 wickets in 46 Tests and another 219 in 138 one-day internationals speaks for itself. And all this, after he missed dozens of matches due to fitness or disciplinary-related problems, the last straw being when he hit a teammate with a bat in South Africa.
One can only wonder what the temperamental player could have achieved if he simply had been more disciplined in his cricket.
For as they say no player is bigger than the game, and Shoaib has had his chances.
Students from 24 religious schools in Islamabad, including the hardline Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), have been taking part in the past week in a cricket tournament organised by the city authorities as part of measures to regulate and revamp the schools. The students swapped their shalwar kameez for track pants and T-shirts, and sticks for cricket bats.
In a new book launched this week about the ill-fated attempt by British imperialists in the mid 19th century to occupy Afghanistan, I came across an interesting detail: the Afghans refused to play cricket. During the occupation of Kabul by British troops from India, “the Afghans looked on with astonishment at the bowling, batting and fagging out of the English players”, writes former Reuters journalist Jules Stewart in ”Crimson Snow: Britain’s First Disaster in Afghanistan“.
With NATO reaffirming its commitment to Afghanistan in a “strategic vision” statement issued at a summit in Bucharest this week, I wondered if there was a bigger lesson in this refusal to engage in cricket, just as the Afghans have never submitted to foreign occupation — seeing off the British Raj in the 19th century and defeating Soviet occupiers in the 20th century. ”The Afghans will always win,” writes Stewart in the conclusion to his book.