Shoaib Akhtar in conversation with SIBF before his main session at the ballroom Image Credit: Screengrab

Sharjah: Pakistani cricket legend Shoaib Akhtar bowled over UAE residents at the 41st Sharjah International Book Fair on Sunday evening.

Dubbed as the ‘Rawalpindi Express,’ the former Pakistani fast bowler and cricket commentator, won the hearts of audience at a packed hall with his life story — from being born as a flat-footed child who couldn’t walk to earning the title of the world’s fastest bowler.

He also won a loud round of applause for an impromptu display of his modesty as he picked up a child who strayed onto the stage and fell down on the steps. “He is not like me. He has strong knees and feet,” Akhtar said after handing over the boy to his family.

On stage, Akhtar was in conversation with Tarannum Ahmed, a Bazm-e-Urdu member and a familiar face in Urdu literary circles in the UAE Image Credit: Sajila Saseendran/Gulf News

The 47-year-old ace bowler was invited for a rendezvous on the valedictory day of the SIBF by Bazm-e-Urdu, a non-profit organisation promoting Urdu language. Akhtar was in conversation with Tarannum Ahmed, a Bazm-e-Urdu member and a familiar face in Urdu literary circles in the UAE.

The event began with a session on ‘Dastangoi,’ a 13th century Urdu oral storytelling art form.

Renowned dastango (story teller) from India, Syed Sahil Agha, presented ‘Dastan-e-Shoaib Akhtar,’ enacting interesting details and anecdotes from Akhtar’s life in the form of a story.

‘I used to fall down when I tried to walk’

Later, Akhtar, the author of ‘Controversially Yours’, also threw some light on his life by narrating the struggles he went through during his childhood and years before he became a star cricketer.

Akhtar said he was the fifth son of his parents and they named him after their fourth child Shoaib who had passed away soon after he was born.

Since he was born flat-footed, he could not walk for many years, he said. “When I tried to walk, I used to fall down,” he recollected.

He was also plagued by whooping cough and some skin disease which required prolonged treatment. He said many advised his parents to spare the money for the treatment and give him the fate of their deceased son Shoaib.

“But my mother never gave up on me. I got all the strength from my mother,” he said.

Akhtar went on to describe many events in his life that showed his deep bond with his mother who told him to always be honest and keep the pride of his country high. He urged everyone to respect and love their parents to be successful in their lives. Akhtar had lost his mother last year.

He said he started walking around the age of six and then he would just run endlessly with his arms open.

Akhtar also recollected playing cricket for the first time for a local club. He was selected only because a team had fallen short of a player. When he ran back, the team members thought he was running away due to the fear of playing, but that was just the beginning of his classic style of bowling.

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Early days

He also spoke about the days in poverty when he had only two shirts and two pairs of jeans and remembered how a juice maker and a horse cart puller used to help him. When he became a cricket star, Akhtar went back to them and expressed his gratitude by supporting them.

Akhtar spoke about his love for Urdu language and also mentioned that the language has bonded people beyond borders between India and Pakistan. He also expressed his respect for people who speak the language in India and mentioned his admiration towards Indian poet, lyricist and screen writer Javed Akhtar whom he met in the UAE the previous night.

He urged his fans never to forget their roots and never give up in life.

“Human beings have been bestowed with superpowers from the Almighty. We need to explore, unravel and work towards attaining what is the maximum that as a person we can achieve because a human being has immense capability. So we should just not give up and keep trying in life,” he said to a cheering crowd.