Shoaib Akhtar: Asset or Liability? by Abdul Habib 18th February 2005 Shoaib Akhtar wont be joining the Pakistani test squad for the forthcoming Indian tour. Is it a time for disappointment or a blessing in disguise for the Pakistani test side which has often been criticised as being toothless without the 100 MPH man!! If any cricket team were to be offered the services of a bowler who can crank it up to 100mph and seems to be able to take the wickets of Australian batsmen for fun, then most teams would jump at the chance. If you add that in test matches he has an average under 25 with an Eco of 3.4 and a SR of 44, then surely any team in the world would want him wouldn’t they? What if you were to add even more sweetener by mentioning that in his last 20 matches he has taken 9 five-fors and 2 ten-fors! What if you mentioned that his last 5 test matches vs Australia bagged him 20 wickets at 22 runs a piece for an economy rate of just 3.7 and at an awesome strike rate of 36 balls per wicket with 3 five-fors! These figures are versus the undisputed champions of the test arena!! Such an awesome performance should mean that any test team in the world would be dying to have such an exciting and devastating player in their team. Imagine England’s chances in the Ashes with this bowler in the side? Imagine him opening the bowling with Harmison and getting those vital early breakthroughs. Australia would certainly have a few sleepless nights if that were to happen but if this bowler really is so great, then why does the mere mention of his name kill everyone’s interest? Why is it that as soon as people hear that it’s Shoaib Akhtar you’re talking about they immediately roll their eyes? Why is it that many of his own countrymen are celebrating the fact that he won’t be part of the Indian tour? They say cold hard figures never lie but in Shoaibs case they don’t tell the entire story. On his day Shoaib can slice through any batting line-up as easily as a knife through butter. Australia’s first innings during both the Melbourne and the Perth tests were rocked by Shoaib and he had Australia teetering on the brink each time but a lack of good support bowling let him down both times. Shoaib definitely had the right to feel aggrieved at Sami and Razzaq’s lacklustre support but then shouldn’t a true match winner rise above that? Shouldn’t a true match-winner see it as a challenge rather than a hindrance? Shoaib instead spent the majority of the second innings of all 3 test matches in the dressing room instead of on the pitch! What irks most supporters isn’t Shoaibs off the field playboy lifestyle but it’s his lack of heart on the field. Shoaib wilts too easily, he doesn’t have the guts and stamina of a Rana (a true champion), a Sami (bowling on an internally bleeding heel), a Fazle Akbar (running in on blistered feet), a Malik (batting with split webbing) or a Razzaq (batting and bowling when he should really have been in hospital). When the heat and the pressure is on it lseems like Shoaib is off, when the going gets tough then Shoaib gets going! Pakistani fans are tired of seeing Shoaib relaxing in the dressing room with his feet up wearing his sunglasses and posing for the camera’s during the second innings of a test match. Thats the time when his team need him the most, thats when he should be on the field getting wickets! Over the last year his captain Inzamam as well as his coach Bob Woolmer have both expressed disappointment in Shoaib Akhtar’s attitude and questioned his commitment to Team Pakistan’s cause! It’s this lack of fight which makes people shy away from the name Shoaib Akhtar despite his incredible record especially over the last couple of years! So does this make Shoaib Akhtar a first innings wonder? Is there a significant difference between his first and second innings bowling performances? Does he go significantly downhill when bowling in the second innings when the true pressure is on? Not surprisingly there actually is a noticeable difference between Akhtars first and second innings bowling records but what is a surprise is that overall he bowls significantly better in the second innings than he does in the first! During his last 20 test matches he has taken 55 wkts for 22 runs a piece with an Eco of 3.3 and a strike rate of 40 in the first innings! But during the second innings he has taken 43 wickets for 15 runs a piece with an Eco of 3.3 and at an unbelievable strike rate of 28!! So it’s not a case of Shoaib not being able to perform in the second innings but perhaps its more a case of Shoaib lacking the fight and the fitness to drag himself out and put the in the extra effort during the second innings, especially if he truly feels he's fighting a lone battle. But his presence in Team Pakistan is about a lot more than his bowling performance; it’s about what the effect his presence has on the team around him. It can’t be easy for Sami, Razzaq, Rana and Kaneria to sit around comfortably knowing that the man sat next to them is the same one who has just announced to the world’s media that he feels Pakistan’s bowling attack is a one man show! So despite Shoaib’s impressive figures and his fearsome reputation, I’m amongst those fans who are secretly glad that he won’t be a part of Team Pakistan for this Indian tour. Win, Lose or Draw some things are bigger than cricket and if the Pakistani bowling performance during the VB series is anything to go by then a Pakistan team without Shoaib will be a team united and a united Team Pakistan are capable of giving a close fight to any team as the Aussies found out recently! So it’s with a little trepidation but a lot of anticipation that I await Pakistan’s upcoming tour of India, where we will discover whether a Shoaib-less Pakistani test team has the ability to take 20 Indian wickets twice and cause an upset!!