Shoaib Akhtar to retire after World Cup

Colombo: Temperamental and injury-ravaged Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar on Thursday announced he would retire from international cricket after the World Cup, bringing to end a tempestuous career marred by several controversies including a dope scandal.

The 35-year-old speedster, regarded as one of the fastest bowlers in his prime, took 178 wickets in 46 Tests and 247 in 163 ODIs in a 13-year career which started against the West Indies in December 1997.

"I have decided to retire. Mentally I wanted to go on forever but I have decided to make way for the youngsters," an emotional Akhtar told reporters here.

"I have no regrets. I made lots of friends but some people have misunderstood me. I thank all the players who played with me and against me. It was an honour to have played with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. I never imagined I would play for Pakistan. It was my greatest moment. Pakistan`s last match in this World Cup will also be my last. I hope that will be the final on April 2," he said.

With an injury-ravaged body finding it tough to withstand the rigours of international cricket, Akhtar was looking at the World Cup as his final shot at glory.

Akhtar was impressive in the opening match against Sri Lanka but form began to desert him as the event progressed prompting the team management to drop him for the last match against Zimbabwe.

It remains to be seen whether he would be picked for Saturday`s last Group A match against Australia. Despite a chequered career, Akhtar, who was hugged by teammates while stepping out for today`s practice session at the R Premadasa Stadium, said he wanted to "be remembered as an honest and patriotic player who never trod a wrong path."

Nicknamed the `Rawalpindi Express` for the devastating pace at which he bowled during his best days, Akhtar always struggled with fitness and discipline related issues.

The list of disciplinary breaches is pretty long for Akhtar, who was most recently fined USD 2,000 for an on-field spat during the loss to New Zealand in a group match.

Akhtar was handed a two-year ban in 2006 for testing positive for banned steroid nandrolone. The pacer missed out competing in the Champions Trophy that year but the verdict was overturned by a three-man tribunal a month later.

Poor fitness prevented him from participating in the 2007 ODI World Cup and he was banned for 13 ODIs after hitting fellow pacer Mohammad Asif with a bat before the World Twenty20 Championships in South Africa that same year.

He had his share of run-ins with the Pakistan Cricket Board as well and was banned for five years in 2008 after criticising the PCB for not offering him a contract.

The ban was later reduced to 18 months by an appellate tribunal but he was slapped with a Rs seven million fine. Although a mercurial character both on and off the field, Akhtar will forever be remembered for some remarkable pace
bowling during the early days of his career even though there were question marks on the legality of his action.

Pakistan coach Waqar Younis and skipper Shahid Afridi praised the pacer and said he has chosen the right time to call it quits.

"I think he served the team and country well and it`s a graceful way to leave the game to make room for youngsters," said Waqar.

"Akhtar always tried his best for the team and we wish him every success in his life," added Afridi.

PTI