Shoaib Akhtar: 'Playing at home offers a different kind of serenity'

Extremely delighted to see international cricket back in Pakistan after 2009, the former fast bowler says home games helps a cricketer gain confidence and ability, which may prolong their careers.

Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar during the Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne promoted All-Star T20 cricket tournament in the United States.   -  AFP

Former Pakistan quick Shoaib Akhtar is not only a man of speed and guts, he is also a loved character. The 42-year-old jet pilot on the cricket field remains one of those bowlers who could bring a smile on people’s faces by just running in; it didn’t matter if he got a wicket or not. The roars multiplied with every step he took. Now when the cricketing fraternity is discussing the impact of the home crowd on Pakistan cricket team after eight years, nobody else could have answered the question better.

Akhtar — who is known for his humility and mild disposition, off the field — has been actively endorsing the Independence Cup, the nation’s comeback tournament, on social media. The event turned out to be a success with the hosts beating the ICC World XI 2-1 in a three-match T20 series.

In an exclusive interview with Sportstar, he spoke on the advantages of playing at home and the future of Pakistan cricket.

Excerpts...

As a former Pakistan cricketer, what do you think are the advantages of playing international cricket at home?

There is a sense of ease knowing you are playing in your own country with conditions you have grown up experiencing, familiarity with grounds, weather and the added advantage of preparing pitches according to your strengths. And of course, you have the backing of your family, friends and fans. The support from the entire nation, who can watch every move of yours at the stadium, is a pleasure. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose.

What did the youngsters in the current Pakistan squad miss by not playing much cricket at home in these eight years?

I think they missed the confidence level of playing in front of your own people. The support is unequalled. Till now, the UAE hosted home games for Pakistan and we are thankful, but many young cricketers missed the adrenaline rush and the pride of reaching milestones at home. As international cricketers and celebrities we feel welcome everywhere, but playing at home offers a different kind of serenity.

How much did it affect the cricketers?

Not many cricketers have entered the team since 2009 (when Pakistan last hosted a Test match against Sri Lanka, which was disrupted by a terror attack). Many careers started and ended in these eight years. Home games could have increased their confidence and ability, and perhaps, prolong their careers.

Though the ICC has taken baby steps with T20 cricket, what needs to be done to restore Test cricket in Pakistan?

Test cricket is the real definition of patience, sadly it’s losing its value on the world stage. The longer version of the game doesn’t really draw in crowds as before. The biggest issue until now was security, which we have proven we are capable of providing. We definitely need our ground staff to be able to prepare pitches with varying conditions. The subcontinent is drier, which makes it a batting paradise. Our bowlers need harder pitches to excel. In my view, the bowlers need an equal platform to perform like it happens in England, South Africa and Australia. Once this is achieved and teams are able to book their opponents for meagre totals, the interest in Test cricket shall return.

Overall, how do see the future of Pakistan cricket with the conclusion of the Independence Cup?

The future is definitely bright, though long overdue, thanks to the ICC who decided to host international cricket in Pakistan once again. I would also like to applaud the World XI team for their willingness to play and PCB’s tremendous effort to ensure security and a friendly environment. We hope the international community builds confidence in Pakistan and prepare for future events on our soil.