Shoaib Walks Off with No Regrets

Colombo, March 17 (IANS) Once regarded as the world's fastest bowler, Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar Thursday announced his retirment from international cricket after the World Cup and said he is walking off with no regrets in a career that has seen many ups and downs.

Akhtar, 35, joined his teammates at a training session here at the R. Premadasa Stadium Thursday morning. Before the session got underway, Akhtar made a brief speech in the dressing room and was later embraced by his teammates and officials before the players started walking into the field.

After the session, Akhtar told the media of his decision to hang up his boots.

"Today I step ahead for the most significant phase of my life and walk off," he said.

"I have decided to say goodbye. This World Cup is my last and the coming matches in the tournament would be the last few of my international career. Mentally, I wanted to continue perhaps forever. But I must make way for youngsters to take over."

"The team knew this was going to happen but they didn't want to believe it because they played with me long enough. They were sad about it but at the same time happy for me, for my next few matches, whatever is left in me. It might seem a little awkward for them as this is the first time in Pakistan that someone is leaving cricket on this note. I would say they were a little shocked," he said.

It is, indeeed, a surprise that Akhtar is leaving on his own terms, considering his chequered international career.

Akhtar, who made made his international debut against the West Indies in his hometown Rawalpindi in 1997, has played only 46 Tests and taken 178 Test. He has 247 One-day International wickets from 163 matches.

His die-hard fans will remember the pacer for his furious speed and genuine wicket-taking abilities, and the 100mph ball in the 2003 World Cup.

"When I got selected for Pakistan, I did not believe that someone like me could play for this greatest team ever," he said.

"And there were my idols like Wasim and Waqar, and Imran was there to support us every now and again. Inzamam and every senior player I used to see on TV. I always dreamt of playing with them. The best moment was when I got the first kit for my first Test and I had a huge star on my chest. I wore that kit and I slept in it and I couldn't believe I would wake up in it. I did not take it off for three days."

His critics will remember him for his poor disciplinary record as he is easily the most banned and fined player in the history of Pakistan cricket.

He shot to international fame with his excellent showing in the Asian Test Championship in 1999 and later in the World Cup in England.

Over the years he was banned or fined for offences like chucking, ball tampering and doping. He was banned for five years for hitting his teammate Mohammad Asif during the 2007 World Twenty20 championship in South Africa.

Akhtar was a surprise inclusion in Pakistan's 15-man World Cup squad though he almost justified his selection with an excellent spell in Pakistan's 11-run win over co-hosts Sri Lanka in Colombo last month.

But a few days later, he was smashed for 28 runs in one over by New Zealand's Ross Taylor, after which Akhtar was dropped for the match against Zimbabwe.

Akhtar said he was raring to go in the team's last league match against Australia Saturday and later in the knockout stages.

"I am available for every match and working really hard and bowling as quick. My pace is still there. Playing is up to the management. I am going to double my efforts. Any possible way I can help Pakistan and with every ounce of blood that is left in my body, I will serve my country," he said.

Akhtar has encountered many fitness issues in his career.

"Whenever I had a chance, even with niggles and during the pain and the most horrifying days of the pain, I still never said no to Pakistan," he said.

"I always made myself available. There are no regrets. You always knew me as not the fittest man or bowler. I always played in pain. I always played half-unfit. So the fitness issue has always been there, still there.

"This was written in my life and it had to happen. You become 35 and you get mature. We come from a very humble background. We always learn that cricket is our institution and we learn swimming, driving, anything you name it we learn from there. So obviously you've got to give us a bit of a chance, a span of 10-15 years to learn. There are no moments I regret."


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