The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shoaib Akhtar: Iíve always been misunderstood
- The Pakistani spearhead explodes
A Telegraph Exclusive

Glasgow: Shoaib Akhtar, 31, needs no introduction. His debut Test was a decade ago, but he has only played 43 (169 wickets). As for ODIs, his appearances total 133 (208 wickets). Clearly, for a variety of reasons, he has been an under-achiever. Heís determined to start a fresh innings, though, and was candid while speaking to The Telegraph for over an hour at the Hilton on Sunday evening.

The following are excerpts

Q Youíre always making headlines ó good or bad...

A (Laughs) Thatís because the media loves me... As you can see, Iíve lost some hair and my stubble is no longer all black... The controversies have affected me... Iíve had to struggle to beat the odds... Iíve felt the strain, yes.

But, surely, youíve helped script the controversies. Why'

I donít want to be controversial... Things have happened, but Iím not going to blame others. Believe me, every controversy has made me a better person... A stronger character...

Even the two-year ban, which got lifted, for testing positive'

Yeah... That (October-November last year) was the worst period... My own countrymen shunned me, with some even refusing to look at me... It was a terrible period... Everybodyís body mechanism isnít the same and certain levels are higher in my body compared to others... My hormone level fluctuates... I didnít take drugs to enhance my performance... I donít need to... I donít know why I was treated so badly... The test, after all, didnít show that I was an evil person... That I was bad for society... Sadly, people donít try to understand me. Iíve always been misunderstood... Iíve never seen myself bigger than the game.

Is there a secret behind your mental toughness'

No... God never gives more pain than what youíre able to tolerate... Whatever the controversy, after the initial disappointment and anguish, Iíve always steeled myself and fought back... The first step is hard, after that itís easy... As a kid, I would boast about becoming a star... I didnít know how, but I never gave the impression of not knowing... I stuck to my belief and the doors opened.

You have a debonair image...

It has been created by the media... Yes, Iím not married and love partying and so on, but why should that be an issue if I perform on the field' Performance counts, not oneís image. Main koi baccha nahin hoon, but I accept there are things I could have done differently.

Are you suggesting cricket is a 9 am to 5 pm job'

Absolutely... Just change the timings for the day-night games! I must be judged for what I do in that period. After that, well, I should have the freedom to do what I want. Iím not immature to get into things which will affect my career.

Long before the doping controversy, your action was deemed suspect...

Yes... Even that was a terrible period and it really hurt me... The first time (1999-2000) was awful... Iím always going to be thankful to Mr (Jagmohan) Dalmiya, the ICC president at that point in time, for his support... But, as Iíve said, every controversy has made me a better and a stronger person... For a while, I may have felt gutted, but the controversies havenít killed my josh and the desire to play for Pakistan.

Strangely, you were reluctant to bowl in the second innings of the 2003-04 Rawalpindi Test against India...

Thatís because Iíd fractured a rib... I could bat because the injury wasnít a factor while batting... I didnít have to use my ribs for the big hits. Itís only in Pakistan that fast bowlers are accused of faking injuries.

You didnít have a great relationship with Inzamam-ul Haq. Did you have a problem'

Iíve never had a problem with anybody... Others have had problems with me... Some have this tendency to get jealous... They get insecure... Iím not jealous about anybody or anything... Look, Iím most happy when (Mohammed) Asif does well... Iím happy when a Brett Lee or a Shane Bond turns in a fiery performance... Iíve never felt insecure... Actually, whoever the captain, has to understand the psyche of a fast bowler.

Was Inzamam an insecure captain'

Iíll not talk of individuals... But, yes, I was devastated when I wasnít picked for the West Indies after the 2004-05 tour of India. Pakistan drew the Test series and won the ODIs... The message I got was that I wasnít required, that the team could win without me. It hurt.

Does Inzamam have a future'

Whether one likes him or not, Inzy is Pakistanís greatest batsman and must get a farewell (Test) series... He shouldnít go out like this... Iím going to be happy if the Pakistan Cricket Board gives him the chance... Itís time somebody set a precedent.

You had, it appears, fundamental differences with Bob Woolmer...

It took me a year to understand Bob... It probably took him quite a bit of time to understand me as well... It took him time to realise that match-winners are rare and they need to be looked after... We did have differences, but I didnít misbehave... However, I admit to a big argument with him in South Africa (earlier this year), when he suspected I was faking a hamstring injury. I exploded, for he had no business doubting my integrity and nationalism... The next day, Bob apologised as heíd been misinformed about my injury... (After a pause) His death left me stunned... Whatís worse is that his body remained in Kingston for weeks and weeks... Such indignity...

How much of a difference does a coach make at the highest level'

Very little... The newcomers need a coach, thatís it. Collectively, the team needs somebody to liaise with the board. That's needed as there often are many changes (within the Pakistan Cricket Board).

Does Shoaib Malik, the new captain, have your support'

Of course... He doesnít speak too much and Iím confident heíll do well... Even the new vice-captain, Salman (Butt), has my support... Didnít you see us go out to the City Centre' Iím not jealous that X is the captain or Y is the vice-captain... Iím ambitious, but the ambitions centre around my trade... Today, Iím working towards bowling in excess of 100 mph... Obsession or not, Iím going to achieve it.

You werenít fit for the last World Cup, but could you have made a difference'

Absolutely... Iíd recovered from the hamstring problem, but my left knee began to play up.

There were whispers that the ICC could have targeted you...

They could have, but wouldnít that have been a violation of human rights' Targeting somebody for dope tests...

You donít like batsmen...

I donít... When I come charging in, the one thought is to **** them... I like being aggressive and donít like batsmen who keep improving their average by batting against mediocre attacks on flat wickets... Itís a pity that there are so few genuinely quick bowlers... Batting has definitely become easy and ridiculous rules such as a free hit (in ODIs) after a foot-fault no ball are absurd... For Godís sake, donít discourage fast bowlers. Nowadays, the big totals are thanks to a decline in the quality of bowling, not because of an improvement in batsmanship.

The newer fast bowlers in Pakistan are good, but not great. Is there a reason'

Because they havenít had somebody to idolise... Thereís no Imran Khan or Wasim Akram or Waqar Younis...

How about you'

But I keep getting pulled down... Keep being made a scapegoat... Iím treated like somebody on whom all the filth can be dumped... Mere upar hi sab ata hai... Unless the youngsters find somebody to idolise, be it a batsman or a bowler, cricket in Pakistan may die in five years. Some years ago, we would be mobbed at airports and traffic signals... Now, thatís not the case. Cricket isnít a craze and, among other things, the system needs to be looked at.

Has faith come to be an issue within the team'

Nothing must be imposed... Faith is a personal thing, itís between an individual and Allah... Weíve got to be true Muslims, yes, but nothing should be thrust on somebody... People donít have to be told what to do... At the end of the day, Iím wholly answerable to Allah, not somebody on earth. Really, the bottomline is that Iíve got to be honest, which I am.

Are you more up for it when the Sachin Tendulkars are in the opposition'

No... The opposition doesnít matter... Sachinís a good batsman and a humble person... At the same time, I havenít forgotten he once called me a Ďchuckerí... I had to restrain myself... (Virender) Sehwag said the same thing and, today, heís been chucked out of the team!

The final one: Isnít there parental pressure to get married'

Thatís the wish of every parent... I donít want to settle down because I wonít be able to give quality time to my wife... For now, cricket is my priority.

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