Maverick Akhtar fights his biggest battle
by Cricket Archive Staff Reporter

Player:Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif, Wasim Akram, Imran Khan, Rashid Latif

DateLine: 18th October 2006


Weaving through the streets on a motorbike, Shoaib Akhtar rushes back to his hotel from a nightclub - only to be caught when his coach spots a girl's lipstick on a glass.


This recent Pakistani television advert for a well-known soft drink played on the rebellious fast bowler's scrapes with the authorities, but on Tuesday he will be facing the real thing.


Akthar and new ball partner Mohammad Asif tested positive on Monday for the performance-enhancing steroid nandrolone, an offence which could rub him out of the game for two years. Results of a 'B' test are awaited.


From suspensions over his suspect bowling action to a catalogue of injuries as well as debates over his long run-up to ball tampering charges, it is not the first time the 'Rawalpindi Express' has been derailed.


Former colleague and captain Rashid Latif loves the fighter in Akhtar. "Akhtar is a fighter to the core. It would be a tragedy if he loses this latest battle," said Latif. "Akhtar behaves differently with different people. He loves to support kids and those who are low in their lives and he takes head-on people who are top notchers and want to tell him what to do," said Latif.


Akhtar's first battle came after he was born flat footed. Doctors feared he would risk permanent disability if he took up sports, yet as a determined teenager Akhtar not only ran - but ran fast.


"It was a miracle that he not only took up cricket but then excelled in it," reminisces brother Shahid Akhtar.


Yet Akthar's fledgling career was delayed because of a poor disciplinary report on a junior tour to England in 1996.


He finally heralded his arrival by taking five wickets in the Durban Test in 1998 and then bowled Indian maestros Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid with successive deliveries in the Calcutta Test the following year. That followed his 16 wickets to help Pakistan finish runners-up to Australia in the 1999 World Cup.


But that same year the Pakistan cricket board fined him 50,000 rupees (833 dollars) and banned him for a one-day international after he returned late to his hotel one evening.


Former pace partner and captain Wasim Akram described Akhtar as a rare talent who needed proper handling. "Akhtar is unique. He is fast and furious but on and off the field he needs to guard his habits both as a bowler and as a person," Wasim has said.


In 2000, Akhtar's bowling action was deemed illegal by the International Cricket Council during a Test in Australia.


"I am born with a natural deformity in my arm and they questioned me. It was a terrible fight to clear my action," said Akhtar, whose action was also questioned in 2001 and 2002 before it was cleared on medical grounds.


Next came ball tampering charges. After receiving a severe reprimand in Zimbabwe at the end of 2002, Akhtar was caught gouging the ball by television cameras, leading to a two-match ban during a tri-series in Sri Lanka.


He was back on a high when he launched the fastest electronically measured ball ever bowled - at a speed of 100.23mph (161.3kmh) - against England in February 2003 at the World Cup in South Africa.


Then during the winter of 2004 he had to defend himself against reports of a visit to a disco and pictures with girls which appeared in the media during the tour of Australia.


After a warning from former captain Imran Khan to improve his fitness, Akhtar's reward was 17 wickets and praise even from his adversaries in Pakistan's 2-0 home Test series victory over Ashes-winning England last year.


However, Akhtar's happy days were again short-lived as he underwent twin knee operations in February this year and then broke down with an ankle injury, forcing him to miss Pakistan's Test series in England. Shoaib has declared his innocence of the doping charges but will know he faces the most serious challenge yet.


"For Pakistan's chances in next year's World Cup I hope he wins this latest fight," said Latif


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