Shoaib Akthar is capable of saying some really startling things out of the blue, like "with great power comes great responsibility". When he bowled at his fiercest, his actions spoke louder. He was perhaps the most fearsome bowler of his generation, and perhaps a man who didn't really make full use of his potential. His book, Controversially Yours, raised a lot of heat, especially in Mumbai where the book launch had to be cancelled. In this interview with Rohit Mahajan, Shoaib Akhtar clarifies that he never actually said that Sachin Tendulkar was scared of him.
Going through the book, I find that you’ve not written that Sachin was scared of you.
I never wrote or said this. I only said that that day he was uncomfortable against me, because he had an elbow problem at the time and it was difficult for him to lift up the bat and execute the pull shot. As a bowler I have to exploit his problems, because if he stays in, you’d be fielding for another two days.
I’ve never said that he’s a coward or is afraid of me or that I’m a great, jinn bowler. I only said that batsmen have bad days when they are not comfortable, when they’re not able to see the ball properly and being hit by the ball becomes a danger. I’ve praised Sachin in the book. I’ve said that he’s won matches for India in the last three-four years, that he’s made so many records.
I did say that when I played against him, he didn’t win as many matches as I thought a player like him would – India lost the Chennai Test in 1999, the Rawalpindi ODI in 2004 in which he got a century and India lost. I’ve got him out so many times. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a match-winner. I’m telling you only my experiences. He did win games for India, though not against us, but against other teams. I’m entitled to my opinion, right?
So why this controversy?
You know, these things are manipulated by the media, presented to people by the media after twisting my comments. The media had its fun, claiming that Shoaib Akhtar has called Sachin a coward. The saddest part was that they did this without even bothering to read my book. They even went to Sachin and lied to him about what I wrote in the book, and got a quote from him.
You got Sachin and Rahul Dravid out off consecutive balls in 1999. Was that your best moment in cricket?
Honestly, that wasn’t the best moment of my life, though it was one of the finest moments of my career. The best moment was when I was named in the Pakistan team and slept in my cricket kit for the next three days.
You’re quite a showman, you do enjoy being in the limelight?
All my life, I could not really interact with people, and I should have done that more. The lack of communication with people has meant that people have portrayed me as the “bad boy” of cricket. But whoever comes and meets and talks with me changes his or her perception. I like talking with people because then they can understand me better, rather than seeing me on TV or hearing about me from the media.
Four years ago you were offered a role in a Hindi movie, to act as yourself, a cricketer. Any chance of a movie role?
No, sorry, Bollywood is not my thing. I’m a cricketer and am going to die as a cricketer. But who knows, I might change my mind in 10 years, but for now, I’m not interested in films at all.
You talked about match-fixing in the book. Is it still a worldwide problem?
Players from most countries have been caught in match-fixing or betting probes, haven’t they? So am I saying something extraordinary? I’ve been approached many times, and many times they got beaten up too.
You say that there would be no match-fixing if there’s more money paid to cricketers in Pakistan. But it isn’t as if the players are getting very little money.
It’s not as if they’re getting a lot of money, either. The Pakistan Cricket Board doesn’t share the money from the TV rights with the players. How will the money come? You know what the match fee is? Rs 2 lakh. And if you play the whole season for Pakistan, you make only about Rs 65-70 lakh —if one plays all matches in a season for the team.
Very few. India’s economy is much bigger. The market is bigger, manufacturers from around the world sell their stuff in India. The population is 121 crores – Pakistan’s population is not even 21 crores.
But is it really about the money?
Money is a necessity so that we can focus on the game. But we’re always troubled by the worry that if we’re out of the team, how would we survive. I give you an example – I found a former Pakistan captain driving a taxi in England. Bangladesh players earn more than us. So obviously, you worry about what happens if you’re out of the team with an injury, or if you’re dropped. If you’re injured, there’s no support from the PCB. Have you seen a better bowler than Wasim Akram? How did they (PCB) treat Wasim? Dhakke dekar bahar nikala usko. They didn’t even let him hold a press conference. If all this happens, then you’re bound to be worried.
Who’s the former captain you found driving a cab in England?
I cannot tell you that, can I?
Have you read Matthew Hayden’s book? In that book he writes that you’ve built up your body with steroids.
If one could make up one’s body with steroids, I would turn a rat into an elephant. But I’d advise Hayden to take some steroid that could make him look better. Good answer? Give him this answer.
Why don’t fast bowlers emerge from India, like they do from Pakistan?
I think there was no inspiration in India. India didn’t have Imran Khan. They had Kapil Dev, who was a good bowler but he was not really a fast bowler. He was a medium-pacer who had to bowl 30 overs to take five wickets, and we have to give him credit for so much that he achieved. But he didn’t have the charisma of Imran, a tearaway fast bowler. Because of that charismatic personality, we were lucky that we got inspired. A lot of fast bowlers came from Punjab; there’s Punjab in India too, but we had fast bowlers from there because of Imran and bowlers like him who watched him and wanted to become fast bowlers.
You say you had no guidance, and that a young cricketer doesn’t have any guidance about how to become a fast bowler.
Yes, but one doesn’t even know how to become an human being. Coming from street-level, what does one do? One can’t be full of good manners. One can’t speak such great English as if one has just come from Oxford.
But is English that relevant?
English is knowledge, about knowledge, and it leads to exposure and knowledge. I had no source of knowledge.
So what would you advise a young man who wants to become a fast bowler?
First, he needs to have a mentor who is selfless. He should not think about money, he should not think about anything other than the sport. There is so much money to be made from the game now, so I think a young player should stay away from bad company and stay with the right kind of people who can advise and guide him.
What is the best food? How did you nurture yourself?
Main ghar ki aur duniya ki maar khaa kar bada hua (I grew up on the beatings from the home and the world)
At what stage did you start getting good advice?
Some things are to be learnt yourself, not taught by someone else. I never had any father figure in the team. Whatever I had to learn, I had to learn myself. So only after having made a mistake would I realise that a mistake had been made. So, zamana (the world) was the best teacher for me.
Even bowling. I learnt that only by looking at how Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Imran Khan bowled. How close to the stumps, where to direct the ball, how much to swing. That’s also naturally in-built in you, and you have to work on it.
You write that even before you started international cricket, your knees were in a bad shape.
Yes, and considering that, whatever I’ve achieved, it’s nothing short of a miracle.
You worked hard in domestic first-class, but now there’s so much Twenty20 cricket. Do you think skilful cricketers can come from Twenty20 cricket?
Maybe someone like Ajantha Mendis, maybe a two-fingered or a six-fingered bowler would come! But you can’t get a rugged fast bowler, a charismatic fast bowler from this sort of cricket, from the IPL. How many years has IPL been on? Four years, right? A single fast bowler in the last four years? IPL is taking place in so many places all over India, the franchisees are trying to find talent from all over… They all want to promote local boys, but there are none. That means IPL isn’t helping.
Imran Khan says that ODI cricket has shrunk the base of fast bowlers, and Twenty20 cricket will finish them off.
He’s absolutely right. One-day cricket tried to wipe out fast bowlers. The ICC brought in such rules, it seemed they wanted to finish off all fast bowlers in the world. The Power Play after 40 overs, for instance. You’ve bowled and fielded 40 overs, and then you have again rules favouring batsmen!
But if you get a chance to play in the IPL now, would you play?
No, no, no.