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How Show Pony Shoaib became a workhors


Trevor Chesterfield,Cricketnext.com
Mar 18, 2011 at 05:04pm IST

Colombo: It was like waiting for the bride to appear. Heads turning, whispers among the gathered. Everyone was expectant. It gets like that when the big moment arrives.

As word had been out since Wednesday night that Shoaib Akhtar was to retire from the game at international level, the expectation was more what he was going to say than how he felt; along with a few touches of emotion. It gets that way on such occasions.

No one like Shoaib Akhtar retires without good reason and the sport needs to know about it and the reasons. Also, hear about his moments of fame and shame.

How 'Show Pony' Shoaib became a workhorse

The Pakistan bowler announced that he would retire from international cricket after the World Cup.

If not quite the Rawalpindi Express – although that train will hardly get up to speeds of 50 kmph let alone the 161.3 which is alleged to have once bowled – he joked, teased and even shook hands with the assembled media, (telling me to "Look after yourself" which was a nice parting touch).

It wasn't so much the sight of him being pulled over mid-wicket by New Zealand deputy captain Ross Taylor for six that left a final memory. It is the heart-rendering cry of disappointment and the responding grimace on the face of Kamran Akmal at Pallekele where a perfect delivery, nipping off the seam and catching the batsman on the crease, edging a catch that was dropped.

He had every reason to complain. That old 'Show Pony' image the late 1990s and early years of the 21st century had been replaced by the workhorse of a more durable, reliable type. The 'Show Pony' was slapped by Lance Klusener for six at Trent Bridge during the 1999 World Cup in a Super Six game.

There was similar treatment from Sachin Tendulkar at Centurion in 2003, while not a six, there was a cut that fizzed past the inner ring; it was a matter of "stop this at your peril" moment as the inner ring debated whether to try and cut off the rocket.

And there was the mock applause at Dambulla last year during the Asia Cup when Harbhajan Singh hit a six off the last ball, to win a game for India against Pakistan that became mired for other reasons. He was as disgruntled then as you would find.

So, when he addressed the media as "Dear friends, the time has come to say goodbye” the theme of the Frank Sinatra oldie "I did it may way" could have so easily been piped into the media conference and no one would have objected had they all joined the chorus to say farewell.

Here is one of the modern characters of the game; a crowd puller who gave all he could for his team (and his country) and despite the reputation and the way he bowled, at speeds which he enjoyed delivering to batsmen, having them buckle.

Farewell and retirement announcements as these are littered with memories; some are not as cheerful as that of Thursday as his career has been punctuated with any number of issues off the field as on it. Ball tampering; accused to testing positive for use of a body enhancing drug; even throwing. There was the sight at Hambantota the start of this World Cup when with hair flopping all over his face; he was sweating enough to be used as water hydrant to put out a fire.

Along with verbal scraps with coaches as well as administrators and on-field demonstrations of unhappiness with teammates and the result of a game, Shoaib has been through the mill, as it were. He enjoyed the thrill of bowling fast; of ripping apart an opposition team’s innings. There were the arms outstretched in a moment of satisfaction.

He had the habit of winning a Test series; of turning around a limited-overs international with a bust of wickets that would wreck the opposition. His pace that burst through the defence of Mahela Jayawardene the night Sri Lanka's 2011 World Cup dream teetered on the brink was such a moment that condemned the opposition to the gallows.

So, when he faced the media, he began in such an entertaining way, it made you wonder, why has hasn't take up being a schoolmaster, such is his diction. He could give any number of lessons in front of aspiring pupils wanting to learn about the game, and how to bowl fast; yet he made it clear at the start, the decision to retire now was not a sudden one, but injuries were starting to make life hard at the top.

Have not Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Bond and Daniel Vettori all said the same at the time they decided to quit? Vettori's ODI career and will Muralitharan’s end with this World Cup.

"I decided on this moment two years ago, when I was having knee surgery," he admitted. "I made my decision then. But then I also felt that I should be able to help Pakistan and play again.

"Really, when you think about it, when I was young, playing for my country was just a dream. I just hoped I could play with people I admired. It was an honour to play for Pakistan. Even during the horrifying days, I never said no and I always wanted be there for my country as much as possible.

"What I am going to next is that I am going to spend time with my family. I dearly missed my family and as my parents are getting old, I want to be with them," he added.

"I always loved bowling fast and winning matches for my country," he chuckled. "There are no moments that I regret and why the memories I have will remain next to my heart."

He found the challenge of bowling to Brian Lara, Matthew Hayden and others of their calibre a time when he knew just how important the job of a fast bowler is. It was a question of making the most of the skills of a fast bowler and do the best for the team.

Shoaib may be about drop the curtain on his career, and use this event as a final call, but as with other great bowlers of the past, he will be remembered more for what he did than what he didn’t do.

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