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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 17:30 GMT
Final chapter for Shoaib?
By Jamie Lillywhite

Shoaib Akhtar
Akhtar has been involved in more sagas off the field than on
Controversy has stalked Shoaib Akhtar throughout his international career, but his latest transgression could be the final straw.

The first man to be recorded bowling at 100mph might never play for Pakistan again after being hit with a two-year ban for doping.

Shoaib will be 33 by the end of his suspension following a positive test for the banned steroid nandrolone.

That in itself makes it questionable whether he will again be seen charging into the crease at full steam.

Add his celebrity lifestyle and various reported offers of acting roles, and it could well be that the next time he is seen on television is in a film.

That would be a relief to countless batsmen who have suffered against him.

But it would deprive cricket of a man whose combination of explosive talent and colourful personality have brightened the sport for the last decade.

Shoaib Akhtar
Will Akhtar be seen steaming in again at the highest level?
Were he to return, it would not be the first time Shoaib had bounced back from difficult times.

Perhaps the three most hurtful criticisms to be hurled at a fast bowler are ball tampering, drug-taking and having a suspect action and Shoaib has been accused of all of them.

He burst on to the Test scene at the age of 22 in 1997, taking 2-47 bowling first change behind Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis to help Pakistan to an innings victory over West Indies in Rawalpindi.

But after taking 16 wickets in the 1999 World Cup, he was fined and banned by the Pakistan board for returning late from a night out.

And he then suffered the first of the criticisms of his bowling action, which led to a suspension following a Test in Australia.

His action was questioned again over the next two years before it was finally cleared by the International Cricket Council.

Having recovered from that, the man who was already nicknamed the "Rawalpindi Express" sent down the first recorded 100mph delivery, in a one-day international against New Zealand in April 2002.

Controversy was to return later that year, however, when he was found guilty of scratching the ball in a Test against Zimbabwe.

After a commiting the offence again in a one-day international against New Zealand in 2003, he was banned for two matches.

Fitness problems

It was his fast bowling exploits that caught the attention at the World Cup that year, when he again clocked over 100mph against England.

But the tournament was ultimately not a great success and he captured only 11 wickets in six matches as Pakistan failed to reach the second round.

The next problem for Shoaib was fitness, with injury curtailing his tour to Australia in early 2005 and sidelining him for the trip to the Caribbean five months later.

He returned in emphatic style to take 17 wickets in the 2-0 Test series victory against England later that year but then after knee surgery he suffered a stress fracture of the ankle and missed the tour to Sri Lanka.

His importance to the Pakistan attack was underlined when he was awarded a central contract despite missing the Test series in England as he continued to struggle with fitness problems.

Akhtar played in the first four matches of the end-of-tour one-day series, claiming nine wickets to take his tally to 208 from 133 matches.

He was selected for the Champions Trophy, only to be withdrawn before the team's first match as the drug revelations became apparent.

Mohammad Asif, handed a one-year ban for his involvement, is not yet 24 and young enough to come back, but Shoaib's future is rather more unclear.

It could well be that the "Rawalpindi Express" has finally run out of steam.



SEE ALSO
Pakistan pair hit by doping bans
01 Nov 06 |  Cricket


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