Banned for five years for bringing cricket into disrepute, Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar on Wednesday found support from the country's new government even as he vowed to challenge the Cricket Board's verdict.
Akhtar described the ban as victimisation by the Board and said that he would appeal against the punishment by Friday.
"I have been victimised by the Board. This ban is unacceptable because I have committed no big crime. Even if there was any instance of me being undisciplined, the Board should be clear about it," Akhtar said a day after PCB took the unprecedented action having found the bowler guilty on six charges of code of conduct breaches.
Pakistan's new sports minister Khawaja Asif came out in support of the pacer, saying the PCB should reconsider its decision as the "harsh" punishment would be "unacceptable to the nation".
In an interview with the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), Asif said the Board's move would not go down well with the team either which "needs Shoaib's services".
"This decision of PCB would develop breaches within the team which would ultimately harm cricket," Asif said. The Board also came under criticism from former captains like Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Rashid Latif and Zaheer Abbas who held it responsible for destroying Pakistan cricket.
The ban came as Akhtar was already serving a two-year probation from last year when he was banned for 13 matches and fined 3.4 million rupees for hitting teammate Mohammad Asif with a bat in South Africa.
Akhtar, 32, said if the Board rejected his appeal, he would approach the courts to get the ban overturned. "I have always given my 100 per cent for my country. If I am not fit it has nothing to do with discipline. This ban is unjust and I intend to fight it. I will not go down without a fight," he told a press conference here.
He said the Board had made an issue of his fitness but he was not the first fast bowler to have fitness problems. "I have even played for my country in high fever and this is the reward the Board gives me," Akhtar said.
Akhtar said he had been encouraged by the support of the media, former greats, the cricket community and the people.
"I am a Pakistani first. Whatever I am today, it is because of Pakistan. I don't accept this ban but I will follow the Board procedures in filing the appeal."
Imran said the ban was yet another case of poor policy decision by the Board and called for an overhaul of the system.
"The ban on Shoaib and even on the players who have gone to play in the Indian Cricket League are unacceptable and will shake the foundations of our cricket system. We are losing good players to bad policies of the Board," Imran said.
Miandad also echoed the sentiments of his ex-teammate, saying he was surprised to know that a Board that had always been soft on disciplinary issues should take such a harsh decision.
"I don't understand what they are trying to do. Yes, Shoaib has had disciplinary problems in the past but still five years for just speaking out against their policies is unacceptable and uncalled for," he said.
Miandad called on the new government to make sweeping changes in the Cricket Board to save the sport from further destruction.
Latif said Akhtar had not spoken anything against Pakistan but only against the policies of the Cricket Board and as a senior player he had a right to do so.
"Banning players left and right is not the solution to the problems of Pakistan cricket." However, another former captain Rameez Raja supported the ban, saying the temperamental fast bowler had become a "problem child" and the verdict was just and expected.
Rameez, who worked as chief executive of the Board between 2003 and 2005, said the speedster had brought the problem upon himself.
"He has been a problem child for some time now. This is not the first time he has had problems with discipline. I think the five-year ban is justified and was coming for a while now. The authorities had no other choice," Rameez said. "It was time the authorities took a hard decision because indiscipline should not be tolerated at any costs," he said.