Articles of the year 2005

The Aura of Fear
Published on August 25th, 2005

Watching the final match of the one-day international, I was flabbergasted to see some of the decisions that were taken by the new Coach/Captain/Selector setup. Some questions come to mind, and seeing that every Panwala in Karachi is discussing the match, my two bits would not be out of place.

To start with, why has Shoaib Akhtar been emasculated? By shortening his run-up, and making him bowl slower, the 'aura of fear' has been removed and the Rawalpindi Express was reduced to the Milk Train where the batsmen got on and off at will. The whole idea of the Hype about our 'fastest bowler in the world' was to create an 'aura of fear' --- all batsmen would think twice and pray many times before going out to face the Man. If you take away the new ball, and that too publicly, you have effectively removed the threat of the Man, and have informed the batsmen of the opposition that they have nothing to fear, certainly not the rib-breakers or the helmet crushers that went with his spell. Then he was made to bowl without a slip. What's going on here? In these conditions, Shoaib does not have a place in the side, and should have been dropped keeping his pride intact and his dander up!

Coaching and managing are art forms, to bring out the best out of the talent placed before you. Shoaib's natural skill was his pace. Fearsome pace. Pace that made a batsman move away from his wicket, after being softened up by two near-tonners whistling past his ears, then to have his stumps knocked out with a well pitched-up yorker --- his toes or his wicket? Many batsmen chose the less painful option - to Pakistan's benefit.

Shoaib is not a Wasim Akram, who was a magician with the ball. He could swing the ball early-late, in-out or reverse , you name it, he could get that ball to sing if that was required. But that is not Shoaib. He is the fastest man in the world, and made us Pakistanis proud when he got the ton. With that Aura, went the anger, temperament, the moods that are the hallmark of a pace bowler. Freddie Trueman, Larwood, Lindwall and Gilchrist. They were not nice people, especially when they got hold of a new ball and started their run-up. When Charlie Griffiths visited Pakistan he felled one of our batsmen with a vicious beamer that struck the poor unhelmetted Aizaz on the head and knocked him out cold. When asked later on whether he felt any remorse at almost killing the batsman, he said, "He shouldn't have faced me, should he?" No regrets. That is his job, to scare the opposing batsmen and win the game for his team.

I have a suggestion for our coach. Shoaib has a particular talent. Please nurture it. Improve it. Make him bowl faster. Make him more deadly. Let the batsmen beware of our lethal Express. They should tremble in their boots when walking out to face the Man. With the 'aura of fear' on your side you are playing with an extra man in your team. Why change him for the worse? Make him better. There are a hundred kids out there who see in themselves a future as a Shoaib Akhtar. Let him continue as the role model for the new speedsters. They see around him the glamour that goes with the speed. Let this be their way out of the poverty trap and into the hall of fame and riches. Mr. Woolmer, please don't spoil it for them or for me.