The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Meet Shoaib, the humble host
- I’m no superman but our bowling is better, says Pak spearhead

Lahore, Feb. 22: Perhaps, it has something to do with maturity or, quite simply, Shoaib Akhtar has mellowed somewhat. Whatever, the Pakistani spearhead was anything but arrogant when The Telegraph caught up with him at the Abdul Qadir Academy ground this evening.

Exactly a year ago, of course, Shoaib had grandly declared he would “target all 11 Indians” in the World Cup game at Centurion. As it turned out, he was clobbered for 72 in his quota of overs and particularly chastening must have been the Sachin Tendulkar upper-cut for six.

Today, two days from the start of the probables’ conditioning camp for the India seri-es, Shoaib pleaded: “I’m only human.... Like everybody else, I’ve got two hands and two legs.... I’m not superman and, so, I can just try my best.... After that, it depends on Allah....”

He continued: “I know everybody has high expectations from me but, believe me, only a team effort can ensure a Pakistan victory.... Yeh nahin ki sab mere kandhe pe hi chhod diya jaye (It shouldn’t be that everything is left on my shoulders).... Cricket is a team sport and an individual may help win a match or two, never a series.

“In fact, I regard myself as an ordinary bowler.... I’ll think of bracketing myself with the bigger names after I’ve got 300 Test wickets.... Phir koi baat hogi, abhi kya (There’s no point talking till I've reached that milestone).…” Incidentally, the 28-year-old’s tally stands at 118 in 29 appearances.

Shooing off autograph seekers who breached the light security (a Rawalpindi Region vs Lahore Region Quaid-e-Azam Cup game was on) to enter the dressing room, Shoaib made the point about Pakistan being under more pressure. The tearaway, who captains Rawalpindi, had come off after bowling six overs owing to a broken toe nail.

“India didn’t find it easy when we toured last (1998-99). In much the same way, it’s not going to be easy for us.... Playing a big series at home is exceedingly tough.… However, this isn’t to suggest it will be easy for India.… Handling pressure is going to be a key element for those five weeks of ODIs and Tests,” is how he put it.

Shoaib acknowledged that the Indians grew in confidence during the Test series in Australia: “I’ve always regarded Sachin Tendulkar as being in a class of his own but, in recent times, (V.V.S) Laxman and Rahul Dravid have come on big.… The Indian batting line-up is a proven one and more formidable than in the last Test series (1998-99).”

He quickly added, though: “Where the bowling is concerned, we are definitely better, more so as Harbhajan Singh isn’t available and (Zaheer) Khan is coming off an injury.… Is Irfan Pathan promising' Definitely, yes.… But the boy has played one series and has to prove himself.... Potential and promise is one thing, actually delivering quite another.”

Commenting on reports that the wickets would be fast, Shoaib said: “Not just fast, they should have bounce and carry….” Was he, then, already in the target-the-rib-cage mode'

The answer was teasing: “Our strategy hasn’t yet been finalised.… You will have to wait and watch.…”

Asked exactly how long it took him, personally, to recover from that Centurion mauling, Shoaib replied: “A couple of days…. We played badly and lost. But, then, we’ve moved on and that match is history. In any case, often in Indo-Pak clashes, there’s only been one team on the park — Pakistan. But, even that is history.…”

While Shoaib appears to have mellowed off the pitch, it’s unlikely that his on-the-park persona is going to change.

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