Sept 24: Apart from making disparaging remarks about world cricket icons Sachin Tendulkar and even Rahul Dravid, Shoaib Akhtar has also revealed in his book that Pakistani bowlers, including him, indulged in ball tampering on several occasions.
Shoaib writes: "I remember it being very hot and humid in Dambulla, it was an awfully slow track. We were playing New Zealand, we needed results. Out of desperation, I began fussing with the ball. Yes, I did tamper with the ball during that match. I know it's against the rules but I can't seem to help it; I've got to do something with the ball. I know this will make a big noise, but I won't lie about it. There are so many ways I have used my boot nails and the zip of my back pocket. Many bowlers use Vaseline or gum. Since we can't seem to stop doing it, maybe it's not a bad idea to legalize it and set rules for it. Perhaps some manipulation could be legally allowed (sigh!). I know I am going to get it in the neck for saying all this."
Asked by TOI, "aren't you apprehensive about making such a strong allegation and admission," he shrugged:" We say it's looking after the ball rather than tampering. All bowlers do. Admissions are rare."
It's not the only explosive part of Shoaib's story. Discussing the case of banned Pakistani paceman Mohd Aamer (who was banned alongwith Mohd Asif and Salman Butt), Shoaib describes the ghostly way match fixing works,"I was about the same age when I was first accosted by these guys. This was in 1999 after a test match in Kolkata. I didn't understand what they were talking about.
How on earth did one fix a game? They explained that I was to bowl normally till I got a pre-arranged signal for no-balls, wides and stuff like that. They would place people in the audience, dressed in a certain colour. I would be told in advance about the slots during which I was to perform badly."
"I told them I wasn't interested, they told me that half my team was doing it. They targeted all those who came from needy backgrounds. These guys had ready entry into our world and hung around us during tours. Yasir and Najeeb Malik were two of the familiar faces, as was Rajeshwar. They would offer cars and houses, When they continued to approach me, I shared my reservations with Shahid Afridi. He told me, 'Listen, don't pay any attention; keep your distance.' I guessed then that he too was being pestered."
The murkiness of match-fixing grew around the Pakistani team. When asked about perceptions of his nation overseas, Shoaib replied, "I don't know about 9/11, but after match-fixing last year, things have changed."
Changes were taking place in the Pakistani dressing room too. Discussing Inzamam ul-Haq's captaincy, Akhtar describes the team's growing radicalization. "To force grown-ups, as thought they were children, to do the namaz or zikr seems a bit strange to me. But some people thought that this was the way to take the team forward.Roza, namaz, tabliz were to be compulsory team events. Threats were used, if you don't pray with the team, you will be thrown out.
Islam has also given us instructions on when and how to pray. When the whole team got together for namaz, the bathroom floor would become wet and filthy. It was disgusting. Islam is all about purity, cleanliness. We began praying on air-planes, if you please. I firmly believe in namaz. However, a cricketer's primary duty is to play cricket. If you feel that cricket is less important, leave it, go out into the world and preach. When religion came into our dressing room, I thought, what hypocrisy!"
When asked why his attachment to his family saint and his deep religious belief still made him so uncomfortable with Inzamam's ways, he said: "Hypocrisy makes me uncomfortable. I am against imposing something on anybody or me."
Shoaib looked at the IPL for a change. However, this too proved a disappointment. He writes: "Shah Rukh Khan got in touch with me. I got the feeling that it was Sourav Ganguly and not Shah Rukh who wanted me on the team. I met Lalit Modi. He promised the heaven and the earth but when the bidding took place, I was disappointed. I remember Lalit Modi telling me not to join the ICL, we will eventually give you more money, he said. Meinu behlaphusla ke they got me to say yes. I should never have listened to Lalit Modi and Shah Rukh."
Clearly, the IPL wasn't a dream come true for him. Did anything save the situation?
He said: "Fans. Playing for an Indian team in the IPL was a great experience. Being loved by so many Indian fans, especially from Kolkata, was a moving moment for me, being a Pakistani. In their eyes, I was now just a cricketer. Not a Pakistani cricketer."
Yet, he'd have liked to be not just a Pakistani cricketer, but the Pakistan captain. Didn't he regret not having led his team? "I wish I had taken the baton in 2003. I'd have made changes, I'd have brought attitude. I'd have worked on characters who can change the course of the game. And most importantly, I'd have worked on removing the fear of losing."
That wasn't the only fear haunting the Pakistan team. Shoaib describes the mind games, class discrimination, bullying and cruelty that mar Pakistani cricket, eventually pushing him to retire. He contrasts this with the vibrancy of the Indian team, especially under Ganguly and MS Dhoni: "Ganguly was a superb captain, a giant of a man in a slight body. One of his greatest gifts was the very brave decision to bring in youngsters. Dhoni is a very smart man, an intelligent captain. India is blessed to have him at the helm. He knows how to lead the Indian team were deserving winners of the 2011 World Cup."
For Shoaib, however, wins or losses didn't change the way the Pakistan Cricket Board and often, his own team behaved with him. Why was he so badly treated? "My rapid growth, my attitude towards the game was so fearsome that there was a huge element of jealousy amongst my seniors. Besides, I was never a Yes man, so the special treatment."
When asked about drug allegations, he said: "It was heartbreaking and painful. I was let down by my own board. Our then chairman Naseem Ashraf took the news to the media." His soul was hurt and his body. Blaming Javed Miandad for physical problems, Shoaib writes: "As a coach, he never guided any of us, never cared for anyone. A similar callousness resided within almost all the senior players in our team. Our seniors set the example of going out, having a good time - girls were coming and going out of their rooms. This was the prevailing culture in the Pakistan team. I know people who were drunk and came out to play and now they call me undisciplined, it's unbelievable!
Perhaps the one person who might change Shoaib's mind is his close Indian friend, Sudesh Rajput, to whom he dedicates Controversially Yours.
When asked to reveal about this special person in his life, Sudesh, Shoaib said: "Over the last few years, she has been the strength and motivation for me to come out and play the World Cup. After my family, if I owe someone, it's her."