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'I am the fall guy'

Last updated on: November 03, 2003 22:16 IST

Faisal Shariff

On October 14, Shoaib Akhtar was named vice-captain of the Pakistan team to play South Africa in the first Test at Lahore. Five days later he was banned for one Test and two one-day internationals for abusing tail-ender Paul Adams during the Test. It was Akhtar's second ban this year following his suspension in May for two one-dayers during the triangular tournament in Sri Lanka for ball tampering.

Shoaib AkhtarIn Mumbai for the Wisden awards function, Akhtar made no secret about being upset by the ban.

 "When I run in so hard, bowl my best and still don't get anything in return I am bound to get angry. I think fast bowlers are aggressive and angry by nature. I think the ICC [International Cricket Council] should be more lenient towards fast bowlers. After all, we make the game look so glamorous. I can't tell you what I told Adams, but then it is in the nature of fast bowlers to get angry.

"I am the fall guy. I am always pulled up. I don't know why," he said.

But Akhtar has mellowed over the years. Today, the 'wild horse' tag that was affixed to his name has been translated into a mature bowler who also bowls 'yorkers and slower ones'.

"I have matured over the past few months and now am aware of the fact that I lead the Pakistan bowling attack. I am more responsible towards my actions nowadays.

"Earlier I wanted to be the fastest bowler ever. Now I want to be the greatest fast bowler ever. And I will be. I want to get 400 wickets in Test cricket and 500 wickets in one-dayers."

Akhtar was invited to Mumbai to present Sachin Tendulkar the Wisden award for the 'Most Special Moment of the Year' -- the six that Tendulkar hit off his bowling at the Centurion in the World Cup match in South Africa.

"Sachin and my fast bowling share a special relationship. It was in Calcutta in 1999 that I first realised I could be the fastest bowler in the world. When I bowled Sachin Tendulkar off the first ball he faced I knew I could be the fastest," he said, narrating the sequence of that dismissal.

"I had had a bet with Saqlain [Mushtaq] that I would get Sachin out in this Test. He said he would get Sachin out. So it was a small challenge between the two of us. We knew that if Sachin came in and hung around for a while we would have lost the Test. So it was important to strike early for us to win the series. So, when he walked in, I just thought of getting him out with the very first ball. I tried and I succeeded. It was nice!"

But is Akhtar raring to avenge the World Cup bashing he received from Tendulkar?

"There is no reason for revenge against Sachin Tendulkar. He is one of the greatest batsmen in history. I was disappointed with my bowling against India in the World Cup, but these things happen. I have bowled him out on several occasions and am sure that when he comes to Pakistan we will have an interesting duel."

He also laughed off criticism from his senior bowling partners, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram.

"I respect Younis and Akram for what they have done for Pakistan. Maybe, if Younis feels that I should do better, he has reason to. But all have seen how I bowled against South Africa in the Lahore Test. I won Pakistan that Test. I feel that I am at the peak of my form than I have ever been in my career."

But controversies never seem to elude the 'Rawalpindi Express'. He had a court case slapped against him for attending a fashion show on the night of Muslim festival, Shab-e-Baraat.

"I don't know why this guy filed a case against me. I was invited to have a meal with some people. When I went there I saw there were some models walking up and down. I was not aware of the fashion show. I just had my dinner and left. They all saw that I went to this fashion show but no one knows that I went home and prayed all night and only slept after Fajr [morning prayers]."

Is captaincy still on his mind?

"I was made vice-captain this month, which was an honour. I am not rushing for anything at this point of time. I will take things as they come. I want to play for Pakistan and take 400 Test wickets and win a World Cup for Pakistan. I will eventually lead Pakistan someday."

Faisal Shariff