Pakistan's bowling coach Aaqib Javed says that the ageing paceman needs to consider calling time on his Test career. There was a buzz as Shoaib Akhtar emerged from Abu Dhabi International Airport and got on to the Pakistan cricket team bus. Following him, another man - tall with broad shoulders - made his way out and an onlooker asked: "Who is this player?" Aaqib Javed played his last Test and one-day international in Nov 1998, exactly 10 years ago. Now as a bowling coach, he still comes across like with a breath of fresh air - just like he did bowling along side Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in his heyday.
Though he played a vital part in the 1992 World Cup-winning squad, he never got much recognition for his efforts. Aaqib always provided vital support for the fiery Ws. His then-world record figures of 7/37 came at Sharjah against arch-rivals India in 1992, an ODI record that stood for a long time. Having started his career under the coach Intikhab Alam, life has come full circle for him as he took up his first major assignment at short notice, just like his mentor.
And like Alam, Aaqib also takes pride in tradition but relishes the scientific aspects of the modern-day game as well. Having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Akhtar, Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi, Aaqib enjoys the status of a big brother though he has come through the ranks to become the new coaching role. Incidentally, his first assignment was as a coach for the U15 boys on a tour to Abu Dhabi.
As Aaqib, 36, takes the jump from a National Cricket Academy (NCA) coach to an international bowling coach, he said: "I am happy I came through the ranks. " I started with the U15 boys. In the A team, I have seen Shoaib Malik [the current captain] come up. I saw my U19 boys win the World Cup in 2004. "I have had chance to work with many boys in the academy [NCA]. And now this..." He said his own international bowling career had been tough because he never got the chance to bowl at the tail-enders.
But he added: "I have no regrets. Now I want to help the youngsters." In particular he will focus on the young bowlers because he is aware that after Akhtar there is a dearth of genuine pacemen. He said: "Umar Gul is good. Asif was good until his problems [he is facing drug charges]. But there are a few youngsters coming up. "Sohail Khan is approaching 145-150kph speed marks. "Mohammed Tala is sharp, one of the fastest. Then there is this 18-year-old Mohammed Amir. Being a local coach, I know the talent in the country inside out.
"There will be no gap after Akhtar, you will see many bowlers soon." He was also conscious of the drugs controversies that has hung over some fast bowlers in recent years. He said it was just three years ago when nandralone came to a head but now youngsters knew about the harm it could do. It was far better, he said, for youngsters to develop an easy and efficient action. He said: "Your mechanical action is like your car alignment. If one wheel of the car is not aligned, then it will affect you.
"Fast bowlers are like that - running in at a straight angle. It [coaching bowlers] is about mental strength and their alignment." Aaqib drew attention to Sohail Tanvir's awkward action but said that his feet alignment was OK. He said: "He is a bit different in that he is a wrong-footer but he is OK since he bowls through his action on momentum." The bowling coach also felt there was a need to save Akhtar for the big games
He said: "It is always difficult for a fast bowler. But Akhtar should now move towards a more consistent fitness plan, it is not just about being fit on tour. "You need at least six weeks to get into prime fitness. I still feel if Akhtar wants to continue in Tests, it will be tough for him. "He is 34 and to survive in all formats of the game will be really hard. In Tests, you have to bowl 20 overs minimum but in ODIs and Twenty20 he can survive."
And he belives that bowlers, not batsmen, were the key to a successful team. He said: "The batsmen set the target but it is the bowlers who win matches. "Look at Ajantha Mendis and how he single-handedly is winning matches. Australia are also not the same team as they were after Shane Warne and Glen McGrath. So bowlers do matter." In his new role he will be concentrating on things that can be controlled - over rate, extras, running between the wickets. He added: "These can save as much as 40 runs and in the history of the game, most one-day matches have been won or lost by such margins."