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Happy Birthday to the Fastest Bowler Alive!
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Happy Birthday to the Fastest Bowler Alive!

As a younger human being I always thought of birthdays not as an indication of the passage of time, but rather a reminder of how we stand still while time runs on ahead. I also thought of how the Flash and Shoaib Akhtar must scorn at birthdays (yes in my teenage mind both were equally as plausible and impossible at the same time). Time wouldn’t pass them by and they probably do laps together instead of those awful birthday bumps us mortals got.

 Jedi Akhtar

Jedi Akhtar


When I encountered YouTube, one of the first things that I did was search the words “Shoaib Akhtar”+“1999”+“Kolkata” like any self respecting Pakistani would. Apart from my patriotic duty on the interwebs, I wanted to marvel at the farcical juxtaposition of the fastest thing I could think of and the slowest, i.e. my internet. Witnessing Akhtar on new devices like a computer and mobile screens felt wrong - watching him required ritual, pomp and circumstance. Late night binge sessions on YouTube felt like sacrilege.

 Shoaib Akhtar to Sachin Sachin Tendulkar, Kolkata, 1999

Shoaib Akhtar to Sachin Sachin Tendulkar, Kolkata, 1999


The speed wasn’t all there is to love about Shoaib Akhtar - watching him was like witnessing a three-act performance piece; you had to settle in to appreciate the brilliance. He would saunter in casually and take ages to mark his run up. For someone who bowled really really fast, it took ages for him to actually get to the bowling bit. But his run-ups never seemed like a drag. Your eyes would follow him in a perfectly rehearsed performance which you knew by heart. You’d wait patiently for him to walk to either end. All good things require patience. You didn’t mind. On your marks. Jog… run… gallop… out.

 Shoaib’s 5 for 5, Pakistan tour of Australia at Brisbane, Jun 19 2002, 3rd ODI.

Shoaib’s 5 for 5, Pakistan tour of Australia at Brisbane, Jun 19 2002, 3rd ODI.

“But his run-ups never seemed like a drag. Your eyes would follow him in a perfectly rehearsed performance which you knew by heart. You’d wait patiently for him to walk to either end. All good things require patience.”

Shoaib Akhtar perfected the wicket celebration. His run-up morphs seamlessly into a moment of triumph and soars like an express jet. Very few celebrations are as perfect as Shoaib’s. Neither Afridi’s stop-and-stand celebration nor a Hasan Ali’s “generator” have the same nonchalance and natural progression of the flying Akhtar.

“His run-up morphs seamlessly into a moment of triumph and soars like an express jet.”

 Pakistan tour of Australia at Brisbane, Jun 19 2002, 3rd ODI.

Pakistan tour of Australia at Brisbane, Jun 19 2002, 3rd ODI.


He recently attributed his celebration to his love of fighter jets.


 Shoaib’s 5 for 99, 1st Test, Pakistan tour of Australia at Perth, Dec 16-19, 2004

Shoaib’s 5 for 99, 1st Test, Pakistan tour of Australia at Perth, Dec 16-19, 2004


Shoaib was also supremely weird, which was quite amazing/amusing/annoying depending on who you ask and when you ask them. Who can forget the time that the PCB, known for their full transparency, thought that Shoaib Akhtar’s genital warts was totally relevant information for public consumption.


This is the same man had to stop bowling mid over in the 3rd test of the 2004 Pak-India series due to injury only to make 28 runs off 14 balls in the second innings.

 3rd Test, India tour of Pakistan at Rawalpindi, Apr 13-16, 2004

3rd Test, India tour of Pakistan at Rawalpindi, Apr 13-16, 2004


It did leave Inzi fuming though.

 3rd Test, India tour of Pakistan at Rawalpindi, Apr 13-16, 2004

3rd Test, India tour of Pakistan at Rawalpindi, Apr 13-16, 2004


Some heated statements and an inquiry later, it turned out that he was in fact injured, which makes his batting blitz even more bizarre.

 3rd Test, India tour of Pakistan at Rawalpindi, Apr 13-16, 2004

3rd Test, India tour of Pakistan at Rawalpindi, Apr 13-16, 2004


It needs to be acknowledged that Shoaib was a deeply flawed cricketer with a less than ideal career, it was riddled with controversy and the constant specter of injuries. It’s as if Zack Snyder directed his career--chock-full of “moments” that didn’t really come together and unravelled towards the end. But unlike the DC cinematic universe, Akhtar’s international stint was full of substance and some astounding pace bowling that stands the test of time.




Happy 42nd birthday superstar, we know you love cakes and candles.