BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: Retired Pakistan pace ace Shoaib Akhtar has urged top fast bowlers to avoid playing too much of T20 cricket, saying the shortest format of the game has blunted their growth on the international stage.
“For me, T20 is a ruthless game for fast bowlers,” Akhtar said during an interview at Qatar Sports Club yesterday.
“I would say that fast bowlers like (South Africa’s) Dale Steyn should not play T20 as the fear factor is taken away by the T20 game because batsmen can smash you over your head,” the 38-year-old, who took 178 Test and 247 ODI wickets during his career, added.
“They (the modern-day batsmen) can cut or pull you with ease. The fear factor should be there in all forms of cricket. I really believe T20 is a batsman’s game and a sport for the spinners. Real fast bowlers have small role to play,” Akhtar, who retired after the 2011 World Cup, explained.
Excerpts from a detailed chat with Shoaib Akhtar:
Question: How are you enjoying life after retiring from cricket?
SA: Let’s put it this way - I am standing in the wilderness with no idea where I am headed to next (smiles). It took me about a year to recuperate from injuries after I retired (in March 2011). I had a lot of work in the 20 years of cricket that I played. When I retired, that was the time I got back to normal life, I got back to my family. I was out of touch with my family for almost 20 years. I had never been at home for those 20 years. Life is pretty busy. I am busy doing commentary for Star Sports. I do expert comments on Pakistan TV channels. I am coaching at the same time. Life is getting busy but it is all good.
Question: Which is easier - being a TV critic or a cricketer?
SA: I don’t criticise the players (laughs). I pinpoint the problems. You got to be brave enough to know the problems and then pinpoint those and give solutions.
Question: What is the problem with Pakistan cricket? How can Pakistan rise as a cricket nation?
SA: Maturity ... that’s what lacks in Pakistan. You got to have a vision. First of all when the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman comes in, he doesn’t know how long is he going to be in the job for. They can’t seem to make a long-term plan. I always say Pakistan cricket always needed a second Imran Khan. If we had another Imran Khan after 1992, Pakistan cricket would have been so different. I don’t mind saying that this is a leader-less cricket board. However, I am sure that (PCB Chairman) Najam Sethi and company would probably make a difference. I am sure they will take mature decisions that would benefit Pakistan. Rather than making poor decisions for two years and apologising to fans after that, it would be better you make good decisions from the very start. Honestly Pakistan needs a self-less leader, a vision and a mature captain.
Question: Could you be the next Imran Khan for Pakistan cricket after retirement?
SA: Look, my idea of serving the nation is not by going looking for well-paid jobs. I can provide consultancy if needed. If you want to serve the country, then do it voluntarily please. You should become self-less with no hidden agenda. I am not looking for a job. I can be a consultant. Nothing more. If I am asked to get five fast bowlers, I would do that. I expect the same from others. I mean there are people who are sitting (in PCB corridors) and doing nothing except getting good salaries. I have a huge problem with the fact that you are ‘serving the nation’ and getting paid.
Question: How do you see the role of fast bowlers in T20 cricket? Are we losing out on fast bowling characters because of T20 cricket?
SA: For me, T20 is a ruthless game for fast bowlers. I would say that fast bowlers like (South Africa’s) Dale Steyn should not play T20 as the fear factor is taken away by the T20 game because batsmen can smash you over your head. They (the modern-day batmen) can cut or pull you with ease. The fear factor should be there in all forms of cricket. I really believe T20 is a batsman’s game and a sport for the spinners. Real fast bowlers have small role to play. I know Dale bowled really well in one of the T20 games in the T20 World Cup match against New Zealand. But if you look at the stats, fast bowlers get thrashed by batsmen in T20s. If I ask me I would rather have fast bowlers play T20s for practice purposes but they should play the Tests and ODIs only.
Question: Tell us something about your coaching aspirations?
SA: I have the opportunity to coach one of the teams in Pakistan domestic cricket. It was very sweet of them to consider me as their coach. I will think about it. They have offered me the job. I am honoured. I still haven’t thought about it. If I take up the offer, I will try to create a difference. I will do it with a lot of passion. I will do things with aggression. The things I say on TV, I will try to employ the same philosophy on the cricket pitch. So you will see lions on a cricket pitch (smiles). If you have temperament to play the game for so long then yes, I will have the temperament to be a coach as well. It is also very important that a former fast bowler can make for a better coach compared to a former batsman becoming a coach. Because fast bowlers are always result-oriented. That aggression has to be transformed. Pakistan team lacks aggression. Yes, it could get frustrating as a coach. But I guess you got to learn as a coach, learn how to evolve.
Question: Do you have any regrets as a cricketer?
SA: No, what is gone is gone. I am just looking forward to what the future holds for me. When the time arrived, I left. I was gone so there is no regret. What is the point of looking back and think ‘I could have done this or that’? There’s plenty to look forward to.
Question: In your opinion, who are the best three fast bowlers of all-time?
SA: Wasim Akram (of Pakistan), Malcolm Marshall (of the West Indies) and definitely Waqar Younis (of Pakistan).
Question: And three best batsmen you ever bowled to?
SA: Brian Lara (of the West Indies), Inzamam Ul Haq (of Pakistan) and Adam Gilchrist (of Australia).
Question: Do you see yourself returning to the game as the Pakistan coach in the next few years?
SA: If I have the opportunity to coach Pakistan, I will think about it. I can’t say anything right now. I don’t plan anything that far ahead. But if I get the opportunity then I will see.
Question: You don’t miss playing cricket?
SA: Not at all, no. I am definitely happy in retirement. I am a man with a lot of conviction that I retired at the right time.