As Pakistan got into a huddle in the dressing room of the R Premadasa Stadium on Thursday morning, preparing for the last phase of the World Cup, which starts with a face-off against world champions Australia, it seemed as if they were preparing for a life in the dressing room sans Shoaib Akhtar.
Before starting the warm-ups, the mercurial Shoaib shocked his teammates with the news that he would hang up his boots at the end of the Cup. Shoaib's brief speech was followed by an emotional speech by manager, Intikhab Alam, and a farewell address by coach, Waqar Younis, whom Shoaib referred to as his "idol" hours later. It was followed by hugs from all the squad members to one of the most loved and hated cricketers of his era.
The sentimental trend followed for the rest of the day as Shoaib addressed the media after the team's training. Dressed in a beige shirt and black blazer, Shoaib, as he has done all his life, deflected questions and uttered only what he wanted to say. But what followed at the end of the half-hour interaction was as amazing a sight as that in the morning.
The 35-year-old fast bowler personally thanked and hugged each of the Pakistani journalists who have seen his numerous rises and falls from close quarters.
Moments before that, while summing up his feelings for the day in Urdu, he said, "Aap rulaoge kya ab mujhe? (Will you make me cry now?)" Even though his voiced choked while he was acknowledging some of the reporters, he maintained his composure well, something that's unlike the man who will be remembered as the Rawalpindi Express.Stressing that it was a "personal decision" and he wanted to "spend time with my family", Shoaib said the rift in the team management had nothing to do with his decision to call it quits. "I told them that I am going to double my efforts from today in the field," he said. "With every ounce of the blood in my body I will serve my country. Whether I play or not is up to the management, so they are the best people to answer that."
While summing up his career --- he thanked all his teammates, including "those who were loyal and those who were disloyal", Shoaib said he would always want to be remembered as a patriot.
"I definitely want to be remembered as a guy who was very patriotic and very honest. A guy who was always there through thick and thin. Pain or no pain, I never worried about getting myself injured," he said. "I never said no and will never say no to Pakistan. Pakistan is my greatest passion. Whenever it was required of me to get out and play, I was there. I promised to myself, to my parents and to my country that I will pick the right path, and I always stayed away from controversies like match-fixing."