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Pindi Express huffs before he puffs

cricket Updated: Feb 23, 2011 00:25 IST
Amol Karhadkar
Amol Karhadkar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Improbable events turning into reality is nothing strange in Pakistan cricket. And over the last one year, the two most talked-about incidents — the spot-fixing scandal and Shoaib Akhtar’s return to international cricket — have overshadowed the other controversies.

While Shahid Afridi and his men have “moved on” from the spot-fixing scandal, ahead of starting their quest to revive Pakistan cricket with Wednesday’s World Cup opener against Kenya, the Pakistan squad is looking forward to the 35-year-old repeating his 1999 Cup heroics.

Even Akhtar realises it’s going to be an uphill task. However, the speedster, who recorded the fastest ball bowled in the history of the game during the 2003 World Cup, would be gunning to round off his comeback with a memorable outing over the next six weeks.

CHUGGING BACK
At a time when the whole world was convinced the ‘Rawalpindi Express’ had run out of steam, the Pakistan selectors sprang a surprise by recalling him for last year’s Asia Cup. Since then, Shoaib, despite being way below acceptable levels of fitness, has featured in 16 of Pakistan’s 19 ODIs.

No wonder then that coach Waqar Younis felt the burly bowler was getting better. “I would still say he is not 100%, but he is getting better and hopefully will get into the rhythm by the quarterfinal,” Waqar said about his former new-ball partner.

That surely means Shoaib has been assured of a place in the 11, fitness permitting; in a line-up that has fierce competition for pacer’s positions despite the suspension of two of their premier bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer.

And as Pakistan manager Intikhab Alam said, the Kenyans would certainly be wary of him on Wednesday as “even a half-fit Shoaib poses a threat”.

NOT JUST FITNESS
It’s not just Shoaib’s fitness that would concern the team. The fast bowler is known to be as vulnerable off the field as he is on it. He added another offence to the list of his disciplinary record last week when he, along with fast bowler Wahab Riaz, were fined for late-night partying during the team's pre-tournament preparations in Dhaka.

It would be easy to conclude from that episode that Shoaib hasn’t really learnt anything from his past (mis)deeds, and if we go by the man's words, he has set himself up for his last outing at the big stage.

Asked about the importance of the World Cup for his team, Akhtar told newsmen in Dhaka last week, “We are a very hurt side but very dangerous. I think the crowd and whatever the team has been through, will inspire us,” Akhtar said.

If Shoaib can inspire himself and his teammates to produce another unthinkable run in the history of Pakistan cricket, cricket fans across the globe would forget all his past misdeeds.