Why did they clip Shoaib Akhtar’s wings?

Right, so two Pakistani cricketers have tested positive for taking performance-enhancing drugs and have been banned from the Champions trophy being played in India. And everyone is going, “Hai, hai!”

Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif took some anabolic steroids which are supposed to be virilising agents. So, would the Pakistan Cricket Board ban all the players who take Viagra or ginseng or even the occasional palang tod paan? The anabolic drug is said to build bone mass and muscle and if you are in the business of being fit, then you cannot only do bench presses and running on an inclined treadmill.

Steroids are used for various other purposes, and the only worry should be the side-effects: baldness and impotence among them. Imagine the hunks going for a duck…

The PCB, like all government bodies in the subcontinent, tends to acquire this moral halo once in a while because it wants to be seen as ‘good’. They need to create bad boys, and Shoaib at least is a great one at that. If his steroid-thingie was so powerful, then why was he ‘out of form’ earlier’? Weren’t the reasons different then?

And then there are Pakistanis who are lauding this organisation for acting promptly. Hah. How prompt? And why did the fleshy Inzamam get banned? Naturally the ICC is thrilled. The PCB is playing its game and acting like a nice little poodle.

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I had written the following about Shoaib on March 3, 2005, and have highlighted certain portions...

Hell's Angel

"Shoaib Akhtar`s withdrawal is a body blow for Pakistan. The Indians must be celebrating. Pakistan, I think, have lost the series even before it has started.” Former Test fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz


Shoaib Akhtar has already won the series for Pakistan. How our neighbour fares on the field is immaterial; it has scored its victory by keeping the bad boy away. The message being sent out is that Pakistani cricket, Pakistani society, Pakistani politics are all about squeaky clean gentlemen out to do a hard day’s work and play fair. This one masterstroke has achieved what a hundred diplomatic meetings and handshakes would not have.

Shoaib’s situation is not unlike Laloo Prasad Yadav’s at the moment; those who ought to support him are steering clear simply because they want to show that their hands are clean. But are the hands they stay away from all that filthy?

Undoubtedly, there is a rasta-chhaap quality about Shoaib. Everytime he starts his run-up, it is like he is forming little spit-bubbles and pre-empting the batsman to such levels of disgust that when the ball does leave his hand it sounds like an indecorous “Ach-thoo”.

Don’t go by that put-on Pindi meets Pennsylvania with a stopover in Bradford accent. He is in the thick of a world not his own, and camouflage in his best defence. Interestingly, his small-town status and mentality that were a cause of fear and insecurity have been his biggest weapons. This is why he welcomes trouble. He needs it to prove his mettle, to tell people he exists, to announce that he has arrived.

When there are accusations against him, he does not deal with them like one to the manner born but as a person who has been nursing a wound for long:

“When they called for the ban I packed my stuff and was ready to go to England to live the rest of my life. They told me to change my action, make it right, put things back in action and come back again. I said I can`t do that. I said I`m going to England because I got my house down there. I said I will never play cricket again.”

He knows how to pronounce panache, but does he have it? Beneath those snazzy suits and confident demeanour is a boy-man who feels completely rootless. He goes a step further and takes potshots at himself. He also laughs the loudest at his own jokes. It is funny. And it is sad. For the man has talent, but he is afraid that someday it will all be taken away from him. As it has been several times. Today, every gesture of his is a desperate cry to call attention to himself. He may have the money, glamour and buying power, but he is in a profession where he can never be sure of security. He is also learning how it might be advantageous to be used:

“I have a fitness problem. There is just too much cricket these days. The past three years have just been a bit too hectic for us. There is too much of bloody cricket being played. But I try to keep myself fit.

Like many who come in from closed, cocooned backgrounds, Shoaib has been confused whether to embrace the notoriety of one who has made the sharp moves or take a principled stand and talk about the values he imbibed. That he tries to stride both reveals his discomfort. He makes a public display of his charms and yet talks about being the fall guy. In either case, he becomes vulnerable to ridicule as well as pity. And he can do without these. For instance, when he had a court case against him for attending a fashion show on the night of Shab-e-Baraat he said:

“I don`t know why this guy filed a case against me. I was invited to have a meal with some people. When I went there I saw there were some models walking up and down. I was not aware of the fashion show. I just had my dinner and left. They all saw that I went to this fashion show but no one knows that I went home and prayed all night and only slept after Fajr.”

This might come as a surprise, but it is probably how he wants himself to be portrayed. He came late to cricket, got into controversies, has few friends and more enemies, is banned and fined on a regular basis, and has allegations of ball-tampering and chucking and faking illness against him. He is constantly humiliated but becomes a super-star and, along the way, self-centred and ruthless too.

They don’t want him to be an Imran Khan (whose confession of ball-tampering elevated him to the status of one with a conscience!), they don’t want him to be a Wasim Akram or a Waqar Younus or even a Javed Miandad. They don’t even want him to be himself. They don’t want him to forget that he is a little man who made it big.

The problem is that we won’t play ball. His is the voice of protest. He went and stood before the jury in Australia to prove that he was right. He showed them how his limbs twist, his joints bend – he bared himself. He refuses to go for fitness tests when he is not ready. He admits to being aggressive. He has physical flaws. As he told an interviewer, “Did I say I was flat-footed? Nothing, no contours, flat as a pancake, I can take my shoes and socks off and show you if you like.”

For him this means defeating his shortcomings. And he flaunts it. He is selfish. So is every player. He has fun. So does every player. But while his team-mates in India are busy being garlanded and posing for cute pictures with their wives and kids, Shoaib Akhtar will be tossing his mane, wiggling his middle finger, spitting out an invective. And then, beckoned by the devious sun, he will once again become Icarus and melt his wings.

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