Prospects of a turbulent career coming to a tame end are looming large. Shoaib Akhtar is retiring from international cricket after the World Cup, and he’s yet to turn in a memorable performance in the tournament.
He has played in just three of the seven matches Pakistan have played so far and doesn’t stand a strong chance of making the 11 in the semi-final against India on Wednesday. Left-armer Wahab Riyaz is partnering Umar Gul, and unless Pakistan go in with three quick bowlers, Shoaib’s chances look bleak.
Apart from that, Shoaib has already been fined twice. Once in Bangladesh before a practice game for being late in returning to the hotel and then in Sri Lanka for badmouthing Kamran Akmal after the wicketkeeper dropped a few catches against New Zealand. He had to shell out $2000 (Rs 90,000) on both occasions.
Somewhat in sync with his present status in the team, Shoaib cut a lonely figure when the Pakistani players warmed up with a round of football at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium on Sunday morning. He was one of the least involved figures, standing idle mostly at the right-out in a conventional football match would.
Not many were passing the ball to him either. His involvement level increased when the players took part in catching and throwing drills, but not being among the quickest of movers or the cleanest of catchers, Shoaib caught attention more for missing the stumps.
Also, he dropped more catches than he took.
The only time Shoaib came close to be his real self was when the team went for nets. He rested for a while before the activities started and after some early looseners, sent a few screaming past the bat of opener Mohammed Hafeez.
There wasn’t much bounce on the practice wickets, prompting the team management to put a marble slab on the pitch reserved for throw-downs so that the ball skids after pitching. Even then, bowling in the other nets, Shoaib got a few to jump off the good length and nearly hit Hafeez on the gloves with one of those deliveries. On either side of a short break, he bowled for a long time.
Vice-captain and senior batsman Misbah-ul Haq refused to comment on Shoaib’s chances of playing against India, but said that his presence at the nets helps the batsmen. “Facing him during practice means good preparation for us. Having him in the side means the opposition is under pressure.”
Shoaib has to wait to know whether he gets another chance to put pressure on the rivals the way he prefers.