'Tarzan' jibe has Shoaib swinging at England

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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff has performed many wonderful feats for England in the last two years but having a laugh at Shoaib Akhtar's expense while they were team-mates in the Rest of the World versus Australia Test match in October was not one of them.

Flintoff jokingly suggested that Shoaib looked like Tarzan when he was stripped down. Shoaib, who was injured at the time, registered the comment and has used it to spur him on to great things during England's visit to Pakistan.

Shoaib was the star bowler during Pakistan's 2-0 Test series victory, taking 17 wickets in three Tests, and his form has shown little sign of letting up during the one-day series. He took 5 for 54 against England on Monday and will be the major threat in the National Stadium here this morning, and in the final two games in the five-match series.

Flintoff is not the only Englishman whose words have motivated Shoaib. John Elliott, the Worcestershire chairman, poured scorn on the fast bowler after his stint with the county this summer.

"People say things about me all the time, like the chairman of Worcestershire," Shoaib said. "But I love to hear these things because they keep me focused. When I was playing in the Rest of the World game with Freddie Flintoff in Australia, he made a joke about my physique. He said I looked like Tarzan, and wondered how I could bowl fast looking like that.

"I had an injury at the time but he made me realise that something needed to be done and that I had a point to prove so I thought, 'Thanks Freddie, thanks for focusing me'.

"People have made comments about my commitment," he added, "but I do not have a normal body. To bowl as quickly as I do I put my body through a lot of stress and I pick up lots of little strains.

"I haven't had a serious injury in the last three to four years, but there have been stages of my career where people have failed to understand that I cannot run in and bowl at top speed in every game. If you look at the last 18 Test matches I have played in you will see how big my commitment level is."

During this period Shoaib has taken 92 Test wickets at an average of 21. He has also taken a wicket every 38 balls. These are not the figures of a shirker; in fact, they are quite the opposite. They are as good as any bowler who has played the game.

It is not only Shoaib's commitment that is repeatedly questioned. There are still many people who doubt the legitimacy of his bowling action. "I have never thought I was a chucker," he said. "When I was first called I saw Dennis Lillee and he looked at my arm and said, 'Sorry there is nothing I can do, you will need to go and see a doctor to get this fixed'. It was proved that there was 30 per cent more movement in my elbow than a normal person. When the ICC [International Cricket Council] realised what the world of biomechanics is all about, they cleared me.

"It was whilst this was going on that people began questioning my fitness. It took three years before it was all sorted, but when everything you have is in danger of being taken away from you, it is difficult to focus on your fitness.

"I didn't know whether to carry on playing cricket or to go and look for another job. Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] is still struggling mentally with it all but I have put it behind me.

"Now I want to go out there and enjoy my cricket," Shoaib emphasised. "If it doesn't happen then fair enough. I have made my money. Now I only care about the honour of playing for my country."

England's Ashes itinerary

England's defence of the Ashes will be crammed into a six-week period next winter after Cricket Australia last night released the itinerary for the 2006-07 tour.


10 Nov England v Australian Prime Minister's XI (Canberra)

12-14 Nov v New South Wales (Sydney)

17-19 Nov v South Australia (Adelaide)

23-27 Nov v Australia (first Test) (Brisbane)

1-5 Dec v Australia (second Test) (Adelaide)

8 Dec Cricket Australia Chairman's XI v England invitation XI (Perth)

9-10 Dec v Western Australia (Perth)

14-18 Dec v Australia (third Test) (Perth)

26-30 Dec v Australia (fourth Test) (Melbourne)

2-6 Jan v Australia (fifth Test) (Sydney)

9 Jan v Australia (Twenty20) (Sydney)

12 Jan v Australia (VB Series) (Melbourne)

16 Jan v New Zealand (VB Series) (Hobart)

19 Jan v Australia (VB Series) (Brisbane)

23 Jan v New Zealand (VB Series) (Adelaide)

26 Jan v Australia (VB Series)(Adelaide)

30 Jan v New Zealand (VB Series) (Perth)

2 Feb v Australia (VB Series) (Sydney)

6 Feb v New Zealand (VB Series) (Brisbane)

9 Feb First Final (Melbourne)

11 Feb Second Final (Sydney)

13 Feb Third Final (if required) (Adelaide)