New Delhi: Controversial former Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar released his autobiography 'Controversially Yours' on Friday. And in an exclusive interview with CNN-IBN, the Rawalpindi Express talked about the startling revelations he made in the book, ranging from match fixing, ball tampering and Sachin Tendulkar not being his favourite batsman.
Gaurav: I will get into the specifics of the book in a second. But I wanted to ask you this: you had a successful career, over 400 international wickets, you played 40-odd Test matches for Pakistan, nearly 170 one-day games. You look back on your career with pride or with regret for what might have been?
Shoaib: I've taken a lot of pride because right from day one, I knew my knees are not going to cope up with the pressure and the load what I am going to put on my poor knees, and my dear Pakistan Cricket Board is always going to trouble me with the kind of attitude that I have, someone who just loves the game and loves to serve the country. (They should have) Left me alone after 6 o' clock. Whether I want to do bungee jump or ride a motorcycle, it's my life. At that particular time, I thought that I might make it that far, but I knew at the bottom of my heart that I'm not going to go that far. Because if I have to play three one-dayers and then fourth one-dayer, then my knees gonna be this much; it's gonna swell up.
Gaurav: In your career span, you missed more matches than you played.
Shoaib: Yes, that's true. Because, if I had played those matches, I probably would have been in my grave right now.
Gaurav: Let me now talk to you about some of the specific things you have mentioned in the book. I want to start with this startling revelation that you've made, that ball tampering is something that's rampant in the game, and not just that, it's something that you yourself conceded that you indulged in.
Shoaib: There're two things that happen in cricket, as i mentioned in the book: match fixing and ball tampering. It does happen.
Gaurav: Tell me first about ball tampering because for years, Pakistan's cricket establishment has said that this is the conspiracy of the west or of the white cricket nations against Pakistan, that all the bowlers, when they succeed, are accused of ball tampering. Now you are admitting that you yourself tampered with the ball regularly.
Shoaib: Yes, and so an English player does it. Sachin has done it, New Zealand players have done it. So the whole world does it. So ball tampering has happened all around. But the thing is I don't call it tampering; it's called looking after the ball. The rougher side has to be roughest. It shouldn't be wet, it shouldn't be greased off, it should not be put in your palms so that it gets wet or something. Secondly, when you have that kind of condition on the ball, then you need the art to swing, then you need pace to reverse it back. Lot many people know. When Wasim and Waqar went to county cricket, they did the same thing there. So the county people came to know about ball tampering.
Gaurav: You say that you believe it should be legalised, it should be made legal by the ICC?
Shoaib: Everyday of a match I played against anyone, trust me - Indian, Pakistani, English or whatever - they use substance on the ball. Either they scratch it with the zip or they put stuff to shine it more. It happens everyday. I am categorically saying that it happens.
Gaurav: And it's not just the Pakistanis?
Shoaib: It's not just a Pakistani issue. It is wrong what I'm saying but actually we are the one who started it. Because if we look at our conditions, they're dry, dead and very flat wickets. The ball does not go flying, the new ball does not swing at all. Then what other options we are left behind with? So we had to create something to get people out, which is ball tampering.
Gaurav: It's an honest admission Shoaib. The other thing that will get a lot of people talking, and you've touched upon it yourself, is you pretty much said in your book that match fixing is a fact of life in cricket.
Shoaib: Both things, tampering and match-fixing.
Gaurav: Let's talk about match fixing.
Shoaib: Match fixing happens left, right and centre. I've been approached. Because when I was playing, at that particular time, Pakistan cricket was actually jeopardised by match fixing and everything. And people were just going haywire every now and then. And I promised myself that I'm not going to get into the group, with match fixing, bookies or anything. I never took any phone calls or anything.
Gaurav: What do you say Shoaib, 60, 70, 80, 90, how much percentage of the Pakistan team was involved in match fixing?
Shoaib: Look, there was match fixing in Australia, there was match fixing in South Africa, there was match fixing in India; it was in Pakistan. Everybody is affected by this disease, not any single one. English cricket has a tradition to keep their manners, keep their traditions. Because when English cricketers retire, they can go out, they can work. Whether he lives alone or with his girlfriend, or anyone else stays with him, he only has to look after himself. They have no problem. They have never allowed money to come into cricket. Look at football and cricket when they were rising together back in the '60s. Cricket was a very popular game. People used to come in to watch Test matches. And secondly, money came into football, but not in cricket. Now you have to understand our way of living. Whoever comes from, like myself, a humble background, if he is not preached well, not brought up well by the parents, he is bound to indulge in this (match fixing) and get tangled.
Gaurav: The reason why your comments are important is because you were a player within the team and a lot of allegations have gone on before. There have been investigations against some of the most respected figures in Pakistan cricket at the moment. And you say in your book that "I have lost respect for these players". So you are saying that there are great Pakistani players who indulge in match fixing.
Shoaib: My people say, "we didn't do it." But why in the first place my name never came up? Because I never interacted with those people; I've beaten them up.
Gaurav: Why haven't you named the players who you believe were involved in match fixing?
Shoaib: No, no. Do I know match fixing happens? It does happen. I don't know what happens behind the door. I don't have a genie who will catch the culprit for me. There've been films made on this. So I do believe it happens, categorically I've said this. Secondly, the cultural aspect which I was telling you. In Pakistan, there are six children in one household, with one bread-earner who has a salary of Rs. 2000. So you come from that culture and you're not educated as well.
Gaurav: So it's an economic necessity?
Shoaib: Yes! Why money hasn't been allowed to come into cricket?
Gaurav: Many in India are fascinated by what you've written about Tendulkar. For instance, it seems to suggest from what you've written that you don't quite place Tendulkar at the same level as Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Viv Richards. And you believe he isn't quite the match-winning batsman than others. You say he is a great batsman.
Shoaib: Is there any pressure on me to just love him? I mean I love him as it is but my personal favourite is someone else. I mean we have to love him for what he has done for cricket, what he has done for his country; you have to admire. You can't disown Sachin for what he has done, what he has achieved.
Gaurav: But according to Shoaib Akhtar he is not the greatest batsman to have played the game?
Shoaib: My favourites are someone else.
Gaurav: No, not your favourites. But is he not the greatest batsman to have played the game.?
Shoaib: No, he is the greatest among all of them. World cricket needs to be thankful to Sachin Tendulkar. That's what I've said already. Cricket needs to be thankful to great Sachin to have played this game. But my favourite is Brian Lara.
Gaurav: You write in the book how the third ball you bowled at him (Brian Lara), you hit him on the face.
Shoaib: The late Bob Woolmer loved him (Lara) the most. When he got to know me properly, we got on very well with each other. Then we said sad goodbyes to each other in the World Cup that I didn't go to. He said, "Listen, Brian Lara has a huge bat-lift, and I coached him, and if you bowl a yorker towards his toes, I think with your pace he's going to miss it." And when I bowled the first ball, it was 96.7 mph, Lara flicked it, the ball hit the fence and came back to the wicketkeeper. Then I looked at Bob, and said, "Bob, what were you thinking?"
Gaurav: One other question I have to ask you about Sachin as you've written so much in your book. In your battles with him over the years - you played him in Test cricket and one-day cricket and you knocked him over in Kolkata in one of your first few Test matches - did you believe you dominated Tendulkar? Who won that? Let's say it was a boxing match, who won it at the end of it all?
Shoaib: No, I wouldn't call winning it or losing it. On a particular day, he had the edge. And when Sachin had a tennis elbow, I had an edge. I had pace, I was fit. And I hit Sachin on the head and I got him out. That is fine. But if you go to 2003 World Cup, he had an edge. I was unfit, struggling with my knees, and he hit me out of the park.
Gaurav: So it's 50:50? Let's call it that!
Shoaib: He is a great player. I'm nowhere close to Sachin. What he has done for cricket, I have done nothing (in comparison). So he is great. Let it be like that.
Gaurav: Couple of other things I want to ask you about. Interesting thing you write about the IPL. You seem to suggest again, in fact you write about it quite openly, that you felt betrayed almost by Shah Rukh Khan and Lalit Modi for what they promised you and what it ended up being.
Shoaib: No, I never said I was betrayed by Shah Rukh Khan. I was betrayed by Lalit Modi, that's what I said. There were a lot of things that were happening because my cricket board wanted to ban me and Lalit Modi had to go along with it. But we should have gone with the legal (IPL) contract that I signed. There was nothing such mentioned in the contract that if your board (PCB) goes against you, then you will be dropped.
Gaurav: But you say you could have made much more money in the ICL.
Shoaib: I promise you I could have gone easily for three seasons, I could have made a lot of money. And mostly people have done that. They played ICL for two years; they made a lot of chunk out of it. But I'm not worried about the money; I never wanted the money. Pakistan board paid players to not play the ICL; I even refused that. I said, "I don't want to play." My chairman came to me and said, "You sign an IPL contract through me," but I siad I don't want to. I wanted to sign individually. If you feel I should go through you, then you do what you want to, and he banned me.
Gaurav: Do you think back on your IPL experience, and there were some great moments in there, especially the game against Delhi Daredevils? Do you look back with fondness or do you regret the fact that you played the IPL and missed out on may be other things.
Shoaib: No, money has never been important for me. And I told you many times that if I wanted to earn money, I could have gone out and made chunk of it. But my respect matters a lot to me. And I was really, really amazed, and it was a very moving moment for me when I saw the Indian crowd for the first time cheering for a Pakistani who was playing for their team. A huge competition was going on. The roads were blocked, lobby was jam packed. Shah Rukh on one side and I on the other side. Thousands of people were there to greet me and to love me. To absorb that kind of energy and to have that kind of love and absorb, it was an amazing feeling.
Gaurav: I want to take you back to the start of the book a little bit. You make a mention of coming into the Pakistan team and then not being supported by the great Wasim Akram. Actually you write in your book that Akram did not want you to be a part of the playing eleven.
Shoaib: Yes, in the first Test match.
Gaurav: And subsequently in your career?
Shoaib: I honestly believe the element that was missing in my Pakistan team was Imran Khan. If Imran would have been there, the whole scenario would have been different. Even if today Imran agrees to take care of Pakistan cricket on honorary basis, Pakistan will be world champion. I can give that to you in writing.
Gaurav: In fact Shoaib, this is a running theme through your book. You write not just about Wasim, you write about your difficult relationship with Waqar, you write about your difficult relationship with Inzamam and you write about your difficult relationship with Javed Miandad. Do you think the problem was Shoaib Akhtar and not the others - the fact that you had so many problems with so many great players?
Shoaib: So many people had so many problems with Shoaib. Put it this way! Look, did I play this game to the fullest? Yes! When I ran in, do I care about anything else than to run in for my country? Here I am! But the thing is I have done my job on the field. Do not distract me off the field. What people were good at was how to manipulate the media against me and not to look at what I have done for my country. I may have played only 46 Test matches, but I won more than 25 Test matches for my country.
Gaurav: That's the reason why I wanted to touch on this. You were the next great Pakistan fast bowler that is a great tradition in Pakistan cricket. You pretty much say in your book that Wasim and Waqar were not the mentors that they should have been. They were great bowlers, yes. But they never became great captains, great coaches, great leaders.
Gaurav: You stick by that?
Shoaib: Yes. And I do believe that they have been poisoned by other guys. I felt so much jealousy in the dressing room and I felt so much hatred. Not just me, even the people who had made their name, like Saqlain, Afridi, Razzaq, they were treated literally like junk. I wasn't ready to take that kind of treatment. Because if I'm winning matches, you got to recognise me for what I'm doing for the country. I'm not saying just come and kiss my feet but give me the respect that I deserve. And I'm not going to be one of those who can be kicked out and can be smashed around. The thing is I wanted to have the respect and people had problem with that kind of thing. That's why people went against me thinking that I considered myself a big star. I don't talk about being a star. The whole Pakistan team knows that I never abuse elders and never use foul language. Even when I was at my peak, when the two star W's (Wasim and Waqar) had gone down, I had never abused or been disrespectful towards them.
Gaurav: But you are admitting pretty much that you and they are not close now, you are not friends?
Shoaib: No, no. I respect them for what they have done. Wasim can raise 100 bowlers like me from the dust of his shoes. That's his class! But you have to understand at the same time that what's not right is not right.
Gaurav: One thing that seems to be one of your lingering regrets is not playing in that World Cup semifinal against India. Have you forgiven Shahid Afridi for dropping you from that match?
Shoaib: There is nothing to forgive and nothing to be angry about. The only thing is it made me sad. Cricket is the only thing that makes Pakistan happy when the whole nation is plagued by terrorism, bomb blast, bad governance, floods, you name it. And during that semifinal, the whole nation was together, only thing connecting them was cricket. The whole country wanted me to play.
Gaurav: And you believe Shoaib that if you had played that match, the result could have been different?
Shoaib: I can't guarantee that. But I probably had a chance. In the first five overs, when Umar Gul was being thrashed, I could have dismissed Sachin or Sehwag. I was so devastated by the decision that I couldn't speak a word during the whole game.
Gaurav: And you speak about when Afridi asked you in the team bus, "what happened Shoaib", you didn't have anything to say to him.
Shoaib: I just shook my head and stayed quiet.
Gaurav: Now I want to wrap this up. You are only 35-36 years old. You have got a full life in front of you. You don't have to use your knees to run in and bowl fast anymore. What are you planning to do? I believe there are Bollywood offers.
Shoaib: Trust me, I limp when I wake up in the morning. And I've been limping for the last 10 years. No one has seen it, you didn't see it. There have been days in my life when I had to be carried out of bed to be put in the tub.
Gaurav: I think the final question I might have for you is that since you seem to have all these troubles, did some advice come in from parents like "Shoaib it's time to settle down, start a family"?
Shoaib: No, they don't bother me.
Gaurav: What's life like nowadays for Shoaib Akhtar?
Shoaib: I take care of my parents
Gaurav: Do you want to stay involved with cricket in some way?
Shoaib: No, this is end of the road for me!