Its been a week since the PCB announced this years list of centrally contracted cricketers; a list that did not include Shoaib Akhtar. Knowing Shoaib, I was surprised that there were no press conferences called, no outbursts against the PCB, and no claims to higher ups being after his career. In fact there was no comment at all from him till yesterday.
Yesterday, while the Pakistan 15-man squad for the 5th ODI was practicing at the Gaddafi Stadium, they had a surprise guest in Shoaib Akhtar. Shoaib, dressed in addidas gear, joined the Pakistan squad for some bowling practice and he hurled the ball down at top speed (150ks +) for a good half an hour. He looked in top shape and there were no fitness problems whatsoever.
After his bowling burst he was hogged by the media who questioned him on several things ranging from his fitness to how he feels about not being centrally contracted. His simple answer was that he doesn't play cricket for money and he doesn't need a central contract to play for Pakistan. He also said he has nothing against the PCB and refused the retainership they offered him. See Shoaib's full comments here and here.
During last week I spent quite some time thinking why the PCB did not offer Shoaib a central contract, especially when they had spent millions on him over the last few years with doctors, personal trainers, lawyers, and what not. I spent an even more time trying to figure out why Shoaib Akhtar did not make any comments regarding the situation. For a player, who loves the attention and the limelight, to stay quiet was odd.
After speaking to some reliable sources I learnt that it was Shoaib himself who requested the PCB not to offer him a contract. A central contract with the PCB restricts players from playing county cricket, puts restrictions on certain endorsements, disallows players from traveling abroad for cricket matches without board consent, stops players from giving interviews to certain media channels, papers, and magazines, in addition to a number of other restrictions.
Thus Shoaib Akhtar, who is pursuing a bollywood career, has a number of endorsement offers from Indian brands, and is trying to negotiate a county contract, is definitely better off without a PCB central contract. The central contract he had last year gave him a monthly salary of Rs 200,000 - giving that up for a few millions through endorsing brands and acting in movies, while still being able to play for Pakistan, isn't that bad a deal is it?
The fact that Malik and Lawson invited Shoaib to attend the practice session and the selectors allowed it, probably realising that the back up bowling seen during the current ODI series wasn't up to scratch, goes to show that Shoaib's cricket career is probably still not over.
All those who thought that it might be the end of him and a no central contract would rid Pakistan off him for good, think again. IMO, he will be spearheading Pakistan's attack against the Aussies. And I am right behind him.