Pakistan bans fast bowler Akhtar for five years

Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2008, 22:52 [IST]
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Pakistan banned fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar for five years on Tuesday for repeated disciplinary breaches, effectively ending the maverick paceman's controversial career.

The 32-year-old appeared before a disciplinary committee charged with publicly criticising the country's cricket board. He was already on two years' probation for hitting a team-mate with a bat last year.

Akhtar, who has twice hit the coveted 100 mile-per-hour (161 kilometres) mark, immediately pledged to fight the ban in court to save an 11-year career that has been plagued by injuries, discipline problems and a doping scandal in 2007.

"The committee has recommended a five-year ban on Shoaib Akhtar. He will be ineligible to play in Pakistan or to play for Pakistan anywhere else in the world," Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Nasim Ashraf told reporters.

"The board has lost confidence in Shoaib Akhtar and therefore felt that his presence in the field was damaging to the Pakistan team, for Pakistan players and for the image of Pakistan cricket," Ashraf added.

However, the PCB chief said Akhtar could still compete for other teams around the world, clearing him for the lucrative Indian Premier League next month.

Akhtar, who has taken 178 wickets in 46 Tests and 219 in 138 one-day matches, said he had given his "heart, soul and body" to the team and vowed to challenge the ruling.

"I am deeply disappointed and hurt. I will go to court and fight against the ban," Akhtar told AFP.

Akhtar was hauled up before the disciplinary committee in Rawalpindi on Tuesday after slamming the PCB for dual standards on awarding central contracts in January this year.

He had been on probation since October last year, when he was fined 52,000 dollars and banned for 13 matches for hitting bowler Mohammad Asif with a bat, days before the start of the Twenty20 World Championships in South Africa.

Akhtar was dropped from Pakistan's list of 15 contracted players in January after another disappointing year, and was instead offered a special retainer deal, which he refused to sign.

Akhtar publicly criticised the new deal as "very hurtful," but then apologised to the PCB, the committee and the team.

"So I thought that they would take a lenient action, but this harsh decision has effectively ended my career. I still want to play for my country," he said, rejecting Ashraf's claims that he was a negative influence on other players.

"Ask the captain (Shoaib Malik), ask coach Geoff Lawson and they would vouch for me. I had played with high fever on the India tour (last year), which proved my commitment for the team," Akhtar said.

Former greats slammed the punishment and said PCB officials should be sacked over the affair.

"I would call it pathetic and request the new political government to sack the Nasim Ashraf-led Pakistan Cricket Board," former Test cricketer Sarfraz Nawaz told AFP.

Former captain Rashid Latif said the the ban was "damaging for Pakistan cricket." Lawmaker Hanif Abbasi, from Akhtar's home city of Rawalpindi, said he would raise the issue in parliament.

Akhtar last played for Pakistan in the third and final Test against India at Bangalore in December last year. He broke down with back trouble and was blamed for Pakistan's 1-0 series defeat.

The "Rawalpindi Express" was not selected for Pakistan's five-match series against Zimbabwe in February and was omitted from next month's first two limited-overs fixtures against Bangladesh.

In 2006, Akhtar and Asif tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone and were expelled from Pakistan's Champions Trophy team for India. Akhtar was banned for two years and Asif for one year, but the bans were lifted on appeal.

Separately spinner Danish Kaneria, who also faced a charge of criticising the PCB, was severely reprimanded, Ashraf said.

Kaneria had hit out at his demotion from category "B" to "C" in the central contract in an online column. He later blamed a newspaper for publishing his words out of context.

"Since this was Kaneria's first offense on discipline, he has been severely reprimanded and barred from issuing any press statements," Ashraf said.

Pakistan have endured tough times in recent years with the death of coach Bob Woolmer at last year's World Cup and the 2006 controversy in England, when Inzamam-ul-Haq's team forfeited a Test after being accused of ball-tampering.

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