It’s always sad when the gentleman’s game turns ugly. It certainly did last Friday when Pakistan’s pace spearhead Shoaib Akhtar hit fellow pacer Mohammad Asif with a bat in South Africa. Not surprisingly, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has recalled Shoaib from the Twenty20 World Cup and handed him an indefinite ban pending a hearing.
There is no doubt that the magnitude of Shoaib’s transgression deserved no less a punishment than the one the PCB has handed out. He clearly crossed all limits of decency by abusing and hitting out at Asif, never mind his subsequent claims that he “did it in a fit of anger” and his public apology. But then controversy and fast bowling almost always go hand in hand — it’s seldom that you find a Courtney Walsh or a Javagal Srinath behaving impeccably both on and off the field. In fact, pacers by their very nature are an aggressive breed, and this aggression sometimes gets carried over into the dressing room as well, making them surly, even impossible to handle. This is particularly true in the case of Shoaib, who always had a bittersweet relationship with those who play the game, as well as with those who enjoy it. It is ironical that for a supreme athlete who overcame the disadvantages of flat feet with hyper-extensive joints to become the only bowler ever to officially bowl a 100-mph delivery, Shoaib is also the most controversial quick in contemporary cricket.
Fast bowlers have a very limited window of peak performance and it’d be a shame if the PCB bans him for any extended period, cutting the pace ace’s career short. Unless, of course, Shoaib now bowls a beamer and signs up for peripheral tourneys elsewhere like, say, the Indian Cricket League.