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I'm here because of affection of my fans: Shoaib

Last updated on: March 17, 2011 19:48 IST

With a moving farewell speech, Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar announced on Thursday that he will retire from international cricket after the World Cup.

"I have entered the most significant phase of my life. I have decided to say goodbye. This World Cup is my last and the coming matches would be the last few of my international career," Akhtar said.

- World Cup coverage

However, the timing of the announcement, which comes midway through cricket's flagship tournament, and two days before Pakistan's most crucial Group A encounter with Australia, raised eyebrows.

Akhtar started the tournament strongly, as he aided Pakistan beat Sri Lanka in a close encounter. But the mauling at the hands of Ross Taylor, who took him for 28 runs in one over, cast doubts about his ability to bowl well for three spells and he was rested for the match against Canada. He was then dropped for the match against Zimbabwe.

"Mentally, I wanted to continue, perhaps forever. But I must make way for the youngsters," he said, as he thanked his fans, colleagues and opponents.

Shoaib Akhtar"I am here only because of the love and affection of my fans. I want to thank them from the bottom of the heart," he added.

Akhtar said he decided on his retirement two years ago.

"When I was going through my knee surgery for the fourth time, I made the decision to play in this World Cup for the Pakistan team and retire.

"Secondly, when the news broke that two of the Pakistani players are involved in such matters (Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir who were involved in spot-fixing and were banned from the game) I thought I should be able to concentrate and get back and help Pakistan," Akhtar said.

Asked about his most memorable moment, Akhtar chose his international debut.

"Playing for my country was just a dream," he said.

"I thought it would never come true. The first day when it was announced that I will play for Pakistan I did not believe that. There were Wasim (Akram) Waqar (Younis, the team's current coach) Imran (Khan) and Inzamam. There was a huge star on my shirt, and I wore that kit and slept in that kit. I did not take it out for three days."

Akhtar, who could never turn out in national colours consistently, said his injuries cost him a lot of Test matches.

"My injuries, my upper mobility in my joints, have cost me a lot of Test matches," he said. "But I played through pain. But I was never the fittest man in the team. I always played in pain. I have always been half fit."

But, despite the announcement, Akhtar also made a case for his inclusion in the team for the match against Australia.

"I am feeling very good and I am confident. I am bowling ten overs. In the recent months, I have played in almost every one-dayer and in every kind of situation. Against Sri Lanka I bowled 10 overs. I am going to double my efforts onwards from now."

Looking back at his mercurial career, Akhtar singled out that Kolkata Test, which no Indian fan -- or a neutral fan for that matter – will forget in a hurry.

"I have countless memories," he said.

"But bowling with Waqar and Wasim, and bowling Sachin for a first ball duck and Dravid were the best moments. It was a dream.

"It was also very sad because my idol (Waqar) was sitting out because of me," he revealed.

Among players, he singled out Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara for praise.

"Gilchrist… I love to hate him," he said, with a chuckle. He was very tough. Pointing is another great. He has won matches and he has so much ability. I wish he plays for a few years more.

"Brian Lara was so elegant that I lost myself in it. I only bowled three balls to him. Those were my most favourite three balls. I felt sad when I hit him in the neck and he had to leave the field."

He said the only batsmen he regretted not being able to bowl to was Vivian Richards.

He also touched upon the mess that Pakistan cricket is currently facing.

"I picked up the right path and walked on the right path," he said.

"I promised myself, my family and my country never to pick the wrong path and stayed away from things such as match-fixing. If we win this World Cup, we will get the craze back in Pakistan. So, at least for that reason, we are not going to go down without a fight this time. This is a chance we have to turn it all around."

Asked how his team mates reacted to the news (Akhtar met the team and broke the news to them before training in the morning), he said: "Obviously sentiments were there. Sadness was there. They knew this is going to happen."

He added in jest: "They might have also felt a bit awkward because nobody leaves cricket in Pakistan. I hope I am setting a good trend for them."

Nobody from the team management was there as Akhtar made the announcement. But he said there are no two opinions about his decision.

"It is my personal decision. I consulted with Intikhab Alam. I had a chat with him, Aquib (Javed, the team's bowling coach) and (skipper Shahid) Afridi. There is nothing untoward here. I am training hard, focusing on match against Australia. If I get chance, I will do my best. If I don't I will make sure every guy in the team gets my help, even if not anything at least water in the field."

More than anything he said, probably what explained the man and the occasion best was what he did at the end. He went around hugging Pakistani journalists and thanking them for their support, as they wished him well in his life beyond the boundary.

As one hack observed, how many Indian cricketers can you imagine doing that.

Krishnakumar Padmanabhan in Colombo