ICL: Indian Cricket League

Has Rawalpindi Express finally come to a grinding halt?


shoaibAfter overcoming countless hurdles ranging from doping suspensions to career-threatening injuries, the Rawalpindi Express finally seems to have come to a grinding halt.

Shoaib Akhtar, the pace ace who is now better known as the bad boy of Pakistan cricket, was snubbed for the forthcoming one-day series against Zimbabwe. The decision by the Pakistani selectors to overlook him while picking a preliminary 21-man squad for a conditioning camp came soon after the fiery pacer announced he was fully fit and looking forward to unleash his pace against the Zimbabweans.

That’s not all. Shoaib, 32, is also unlikely to get his central contract renewed when the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announces a trimmed list of 15-18 players following a meeting of its Governing Board in Karachi on January 25.

“As far as we are concerned, he (Shoaib Akhtar) is finished. He is spent force,” a senior PCB official told ‘The News’, on condition of anonymity. “He bowls three or four slower deliveries in an over not because they are effective but because he doesn’t have the strength to finish an over at full throttle.

“Shoaib has become more of a burden than an asset and is a bad influence for the (national) team,” added the official. His comments echoed the general feeling in Pakistan cricket’s corridors of power.

According to sources, top PCB officials, the national team management and most senior players are all fed up with the enigmatic bowler. “Shoaib has really disappointed us,” said the PCB official. “He failed a dope test, faked injuries, had a bad disciplinary record but we still believed that the player will mend his ways and help the team’s cause. But he continues to show a negative attitude.”

The PCB was left fuming when Shoaib broke down on several occasions during the three-match Test series in India last November-December which Pakistan lost 0-1. After a below-average performance in the five-match ODI series against India which Pakistan lost 2-3, Shoaib began the Test series impressively, taking six wickets in a lost cause. But he was dogged by a viral infection in the second Test in Kolkata and then suffered a back problem in the final match in Bangalore.

Team and PCB officials were unhappy with his fitness problems and the bowler was singled out as one of the reasons for Pakistan’s disappointing show in India. Reports that Shoaib was planning to pursue a Bollywood career following the series defeat added fuel to fire and the PCB chairman announced that the player will have to choose between cricket and the film world.

However, Shoaib has been insisting that his focus remains on cricket. “I want to play cricket and just showing a little interest in films doesn’t mean I am leaving the game,” Shoaib said in an interview earlier this month.

He added, “I have always played for the country and yet people question my commitment. I agree I am more prone to injuries than others but it’s because I bowl fast and try hard, and even team officials can vouch for that.”

But people at the helm of Pakistan cricket affairs believe they’ve had enough. Following closed door meetings in Lahore earlier this month, senior board officials developed a consensus that they would not include Shoaib’s name in the list of central contracts to be submitted to the Governing Board for its approval.

“We believe that it’s better to show faith in upcoming youngsters rather than continuing banking on half-fit bowlers,” said the PCB official.

Shoaib’s cause hasn’t been helped by the rise of a few promising pacers like Karachi’s Sohail Khan — the highest wicket-taker in domestic cricket this season. Pakistan are all set to replace Shoaib with Sohail in the one-day series against Zimbabwe.

Is it finally the end of the road for Shoaib? Such questions have been asked frequently during the pacer’s happening career. Each time his critics wrote him off, the pacer roared back into international cricket and proved them wrong.

Shoaib will get a chance to do that again during next month’s Pentangular Cup. The PCB wants him to prove his fitness by playing at least two of the event’s matches if the bowler wants to be considered for the home series against Australia. Whether Shoaib, with an injury-prone 32-year-old body, would be able to that remains to be seen.

Source:Cricket News

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