Coming off a run-up that wouldn’t look out of place at a Jamaican sprinter’s convention, Shoaib Akhtar’s approach to the crease was equally as terrifying as the deliveries that followed it.
As he lobs the ball casually to the bowler, it seems almost as if the mid-off fielder is unaware of both the emotional carnage currently paralysing the batsman’s brain or the impending physical threat that promises to wreak an equally devastating, yet more external, havoc on the thin layer of bone that protects it. Cursing the callousness of a player who would willingly put a varnished leather rock masquerading as an instrument of sporting contest into the hands of a man planning to hurl it at a be-padded bundle of nerves such as himself, the batsman pretends to count the men behind square-leg for the fortieth time. Anything for a stay of execution.
Though he knew this moment would come, and ought to have been prepared for it, the batsman nevertheless experiences a moment of spatiotemporal uncertainty. His is a dead-brain-walking, an entity trapped inside a skull trapped inside a piece of titanium soon to be crushed by a covered piece of cork. For an instant he equates his lid with the infernal box belonging to that strange Austrian doctor who kept on talking about killing cats, before he realises that fear is pushing his mind towards the abyss of mental instability and a future largely comprised of the frenzied scribbling of Urdu script on cold, white, padded walls. The batsman casts such thoughts out of his mind and tries to focus on the task at hand, namely, surviving that most utterly sadistic of cricketing occurrences: a Shoaib Akhtar delivery.