Shoaib Akhtar: From villian to hero | india | Hindustan Times
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Shoaib Akhtar: From villian to hero

From a big liability to a huge asset. The transformation has been dramatic and India might feel the heat.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2006 11:03 IST

If Pakistan's cricket board were asked two months ago whether fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar was an asset or a liability, they would have groped for an answer.

It needed just one home Test series against Ashes-winning England to find the answer, as the 30-year-old answered his critics in dramatic style.

The paceman was warned that it would be a make-or-break series for him when Michael Vaughan's Englishmen came for a three-Test series in November.

Akhtar had not played Test cricket for more than 10 months due to fitness problems but he rose to the occasion, taking 17 wickets on placid tracks to play a major role in the 2-0 series victory.

Pakistan are now pinning their hopes on the "new Akhtar" to tame a strong Indian batting line-up in the three-Test series which starts here on Friday.

Captain Inzamam-ul-Haq says if Akhtar stays fit, he will cause India serious problems.

"If Shoaib remains fit, which I am sure he will, and maintains the same form, I think he will be too hot to handle for the Indians," he said.

Akhtar is talented, but temperamental. He looks the strongest in the team, but is injury prone. He has the speed to unsettle the world's best batsmen when on song, but looks pedestrian when he lacks control.

The 30-year-old is Pakistan's most glamorous player but many observers feel he has yet to do justice to his potential even after playing 39 Tests and 129 one-dayers.

The 'Rawalpindi Express' has taken 161 wickets in Tests and 199 in one-dayers, but is yet to prove a consistent match-winner and is known as much for his mood-swings as his skill.

He has breached the 100mph-barrier but has had brushes with authorities and is often accused of feigning injuries. He has also been reported for a suspect bowling action.

Encouraging news for Pakistan is that Akhtar has promised to be at his best against the Indians, against whom he managed just seven wickets in three Tests in the last home series in 2004.

"You only need to hear the name of India to get motivation," he said in a recent interview.

"It's not revenge as people are saying, but unfinished business against India. I still regret I could not live up to expectations when India came here."

The Pakistani skipper said Akhtar's performance would be crucial in deciding the outcome of the series.

"Shoaib is probably the most improved bowler in terms of fitness, approach, attitude and discipline. He inspires other pacemen to do better," said Inzamam.