Shoaib Akhtar and a World Cup helping hand

Shoaib Akhtar and Boria Majumdar (Image: File Picture./Instagram)

As I have said in an earlier piece, one of the most difficult events to deal with during the course of the sanction was the 2023 World Cup on home soil. Without me, my team was handicapped and we needed to do something to set the tone of the coverage. That’s when the idea came. How about launching a World Cup special Backstage with Boria series with a focus on India-Pakistan? And from the Pakistan standpoint, my first choice was Shoaib Akhtar.

Shoaib is a maverick. One of the best fast bowlers of all time, he is all headlines in an interview. In fact, speaking to him is much like facing him! He will come at you relentlessly, and when on a roll, he will drive the conversation. Ahead of an India-Pakistan game, Shoaib is a real big ticket, someone whom people love listening to and whose statements are opinionated. That’s what you want in the news business, and Shoaib was my go-to man for the World Cup India-Pakistan special.

But Shoaib, I knew, is always in demand and gets the price he asks. It was not something I could offer. So the best thing was to tell him upfront and then leave it to him to decide if he wanted to do the show. I messaged Shoaib the details, and explained what I wanted to do. That was my best option, for I was sure he would either say yes or no, and not keep me in limbo. Within 30 minutes, he replied saying he would call. Contact had been established, and he had not said no. Another hour later, he messaged saying he was still in meetings, and that I should wait for him to think and get back. I was hopeful because he wouldn’t have made repeated contact had he just wanted to say no.

Finally, he called me the next day at 2pm India time, full of excitement. ‘How have you been?’ he asked me. ‘How is the new venture doing, for I keep seeing clips on Twitter?’ When I said the interview was for RevSportz and would do much for my World Cup programming, he said in a flash, ‘Kab karna hai [When do you want to do it?]’ He then added, ‘Can you send me a Zoom link in the next two minutes and we can do it right away? I don’t want to keep this hanging and if I forget, I will feel bad about it. I genuinely want to do this for you, so it is best we record now. This is the least I can do to help your company.’


Obviously, this was music to my years. Shoaib on RevSportz ahead of the India-Pakistan game would be a blockbuster. That was when I asked him about the money. The moment I did, he started laughing. ‘Dada, some things are not about money,’ he said. ‘There is more to life than money. Just send me the link and let’s have a chat. How much time will you need? I have an hour for you.’

For a few seconds, I was stunned. He wasn’t saying 10-15 minutes. He was saying he would have an hour-long conversation ahead of the World Cup. Ask anyone in the media and they would tell you that it was the kind of interview that sets the tone for your entire coverage.

And Shoaib’s statements did indeed set the tone: ‘The World T20 in Australia was all about Virat Kohli,’ he said. ‘It was as if the cricket Gods wanted him to do something superhuman against Pakistan. For, otherwise, he couldn’t have played that shot off Haris Rauf. That was the most extraordinary innings played by Virat, and even as a Pakistani former cricketer, all I did was applaud.’

As Shoaib spoke, I had actually switched off. For a good 10 minutes of the interview, I did not know what he was talking about. My mind was somewhere else. I was actually thinking that I must have done something right for players of that calibre – Sourav Ganguly, Gautam Gambhir, Shoaib, Ian Bishop, Curtly Ambrose, Eoin Morgan, Makhaya Ntini, Brad Hogg, Athar Ali Khan and Greg Chappell—to speak to me ahead of the World Cup. It was my best Backstage with Boria cricket series in the last two years and it had all come together with the sanction still in place. All these players are legends in their own right. And some of them are the best callers of the game around. For them to set up the World Cup for us was a dream. There was hope, after all.