Pakistan's former firebrand pace bowler Shoaib Akhtar has made stunning comments in a Pakistani talk show where he cast aspersions of match-fixing on a large number of his own teammates. While Akhtar has in the past also talked about the scourge of match-fixing, his latest comments suggest that this evil phenomenon was much more widespread in the Pakistan team than imagined.
In a free-wheeling conversation, when the issue of fixing came up, the Rawalpindi Express said: "I had this conviction that I would never betray Pakistan, I would never indulge in match-fixing. All around me, there were match-fixers. I was playing against around 22 people, 11 of theirs (opposing team) and 10 of our own. Who knows who is a match-fixer and what is he doing.
"So much match-fixing! (Mohammad) Asif told me which matches they fixed and how. I asked him 'But I was in that match also, what was I doing,' he said, 'sir you are a saintly person, you were trying hard for your goal and we were for ours.'"
Throughout the interview, Shoaib positioned himself as an honest, free-spirited person dedicated to serving his nation, but surrounded by crooks. It is a fact that Akhtar was never involved or even suspected of being involved in any shady dealings. Controversies relating to him were more about his attitude and fall-out with coaches.
His comments about match-fixing weren't the only interesting part of the interview. The former express fast bowler discussed his entire journey from childhood to his retirement. He also claimed that when he was playing in India, presumably in the Indian Premier League (IPL), he was made to work 16 hours a day. This claim certainly sounds an exaggeration.
Akhtar also claimed in a rather self-indulgent interview that when he found out about the spot-fixing scandal involving Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir, he was so infuriated that he wanted to 'break the faces of the two fast bowlers.'
The former Test player also narrated an interesting anecdote that could be construed as somewhat controversial. He said that, during a net session of Pakistan team, Waqar Younis, legendary fast bowler of Pakistan, was bowling and Akhtar was verbally motivating him to bowl even faster. However, Younis didn't like it and asked him to 'keep quiet.'
This didn't go down with Shoaib. In the interview, he triumphantly said that he ended up replacing Waqar Younis in the Pakistan team in 1998. It is important to remember that Younis continued to play even after that and even became the Pakistan captain.
How much of Akhtar's words are true, how much are they exaggeration and how much pure fiction can only be guessed. But one thing is certain, Akhtar never gives a dull interview.