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Shoaib the Imposter

Mar 2, 2007:

Enough is enough. Shoaib Akhtar does not belong on a cricket field anywhere let alone as a participant in the forthcoming World Cup. An impostor whose reputation relies upon a handful of bursts spread over a career lasting a decade, he has been more trouble than he is worth. No captain, no team has been able to rely on him. Throughout Shoaib has been more interested in the glamour than the graft. His image as a charming rogue conceals an unscrupulous outlook that has damaged the reputation of every team he has represented. He is more rascal than rogue. Far from sustaining a great tradition of fast bowling in his country, he has undermined it. Worse, he has taken emerging players with him.

Shoaib Akhtar

Shoaib Akhtar. Photo: Nick Boalch (, via Wikimedia Commons

Shoaib has been in the spotlight because he failed a drugs test a while back. But that has not been the beginning or end of it. Along the way he has also been suspected of pinging the ball, and worse. His devastating burst against the Australians in Colombo a few years ago was as illegal as it was theatrical. Repeatedly the speedster moved wide of the crease to unleash inswinging thunderbolts with an open chest. In his defence, Shoaib does have an unusually flexible elbow that bends well beyond the straight. Suffice it to say that he took full advantage of his attribute. Of course this was merely one instance. Whereas Brett Lee worked hard to correct flaws detected in his action and has not delivered a ball from wide of the crease for several years, Shoaib has refused to change. Alas the game has lacked the wherewithal needed to stop him.

Shoaib’s willingness to mess with the ball was evident in the same contest.  Although they were loathe to admit it, the umpires in that rearranged Test match repeatedly scrutinised the ball and were clearly unhappy with its condition. Subsequently Shoaib’s county colleagues talked openly about the methods the Pakistani used to disrupt the ball. Shahid Afridi, a fellow traveller, was just as brazen about his performance in the same category. No wonder umpires keep a wary eye on their comrades. Darrell Hair might have overstepped the mark at The Oval, but his suspicions were well founded.

Throughout Shoaib has taken more from the game that he has given back. Now comes his last ditch attempt to take part in the forthcoming World Cup. Everyone has been blaming the ICC and the Pakistani authorities for the debacle around the recent failed drug tests involving Shoaib and Asif. Most especially the overturning of the bans by a dimwitted and ill informed court of appeal has been condemned. But democracies are committed to due process and Shoaib was entitled to his day in court so those responsible were bound to accept the verdict. Now they must pursue every legal possibility themselves. Those saved by the loophole may yet perish at the noose. Clearly proper international structures are needed. At least the Pakistanis test for drugs, a duty not yet accepted by several other Test playing nations.

In any case let us not dwell upon the inefficiencies of the system. Shoaib is the culprit. At the first time of asking – it was the first test to which Pakistani players had been subjected – high levels of nandroline were found in his system. Recreational drugs are none of sport’s business but every effort must be made to eradicate steroids. Cheats must not prosper. As an experienced international sportsman, Shoaib is responsible for his actions. That the same performance enhancing substance was also detected in the bloodstream of a junior colleague makes it even worse. Although he is hardly an innocent juvenile, Asif was rightly given a lesser penalty.

Apparently Shoaib is currently in London. Ostensibly he is seeing specialists to check on the improvement in various injuries. Unsurprisingly a darker purpose has been attached to his visit – it is the price paid by regular transgressors. Sceptics says he is merely avoiding further scheduled examinations in his own country whilst also discovering whether his bloodstream is sufficiently clear. A lifetime ban awaits second offenders.

Far from capturing the imagination as a swashbuckling paceman, Shoaib comes across as strutting caricature. It’s high time stumps was called on his fitful career. Pakistanis must be offended by his inclusion in their party for the World Cup. His presence demeans their reputation. Only when he has returned to his natural nocturnal habitats can Pakistani officials hope to develop an enduring and impressive culture in their cricket. A month ago this poseur opened the bowling for his country against Graeme Smith and company. Not that his body lasted the entire match. A lot can be surmised about his fitness from his trudge back to his mark. The prospect of him appearing at all in the World Cup is bad enough. The thought of him opening the bowling in the final is offensive.

This article was written for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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