To a general lack of astonishment and perhaps a little weariness, Shoaib Akhtar's five-year ban was reduced yesterday. He will now serve 18 months – as well as being ordered to pay a fine of some £50,000 – after an appeals tribunal adjudged the original punishment was too harsh.
It is a significant amendment, because it may mean the difference between Shoaib being able to resume his international career for Pakistanor being forced to bring it toa premature close. The mercurial fast bowler, 33 in August, was suspended two months ago after he made critical comments of the Pakistan Cricket Board over pitches, domestic tournaments, the administration and just about their existence generally.
The board seemed to have decided that enough was enough. Shoaib has rarely been out of the news for matters other than his bowling, of which his drugs-test failure before the 2006 Champions Trophy and his walloping of fellow fast bowler Mohammad Asif with a bat beforethe World Twenty20 lastyear were merely the most outrageous examples.
But former Justice Aftab Farrukh, chairman of the three-man appeals panel, said: "We have taken the decision with a clear conscience and under no pressure from the board. We also took into consideration the past record of Shoaib and that he had publicly apologised for his behaviour and past deeds. He has promised to reform himself and we have recommended to the board that he should be given proper counselling."
The thought occurred that if the panel had fully taken into account his past record, they may have doubled the ban, not cut it. It may be reduced further yet, since Shoaib's lawyers are considering a further appeal. It would not be a surprise to see him adding to his 402 international wickets later this year.
Asif, a bowler of real promise, has been held in Dubai since 1 June after a banned substance was allegedly discovered in his baggage at airport control. The case against him is due to start on 22 June.
Pakistan clinched the tri-series title after centuries from Salman Butt and Younus Khan helped set up a 25-run win over India in Mirpur yesterday. The pair recorded a second-wicket stand of 205 before Younus fell for 108, while Butt was retired hurt on 129. Set 316 target for victory, India lost wickets at regular intervals and they were eventually dismissed for 290, despite Mahendra Singh Dhoni's 64.
At tea on day three of the third Test in Bridgetown, centuries from both openers – Simon Katich (109 not out) and Phil Jaques (108) – gave Australia a 284-run lead over the West Indies with nine second-innings wickets remaining.