Shoaib Akhtar has blamed Pakistan allrounder Shahid Afridi for the spat that led to him hitting fast bowler Mohammad Asif with a bat during Pakistan's build-up to the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa. On his return home today after being thrown out of the squad, Shoaib apologised for his actions and said the matter should have stayed in the dressing room.
Shoaib, who has been handed an indefinite ban for the scuffle two days ago, said he didn't mean to hit Asif, whom he described as a younger brother. "I apologised to Asif and he forgave me but another team-mate, Afridi, took the matter further and it forced the management to send me back," Shoaib said.
"The incident began with a verbal spat between me and Afridi, who used foul language," Shoaib said, "and Asif intervened and in anger I hit Asif with a bat."
"Afridi said things about my family which I could not tolerate. He made comments that cannot be called jokes. I am sorry for what happened and it should not have happened. I request the authorities not to ban me for a lengthy period. I want to play for my country and talk of a life ban or lengthy ban is worrying."
Afridi, however, denied that he had provoked Shoaib and was surprised at the accusations.
"I can't say much because I am bound by the central contract," Afridi told PTI. "But it is fact that Shoaib has been facing one problem or the other in the last two years and he is frustrated. I have had a good relationship with him so I don't know why he has targeted me. But he is lying and it would be better if everyone asked Asif what happened. I know Asif could have suffered more injuries if I had not stepped in."
Shoaib also criticised the media for blowing the incident out of proportion and making him a "villain". "The matter got blown up. The media has contributed to the whole controversy. There is a lobby which has always been trying to malign me by selling negative news about me. I request you all to stop doing that. Stop spreading false propaganda against me, stop selling my name in the name of news."
The main theme, though, was contrition. "If Pakistan lose [in the ICC World Twenty20] because of bowling, I will never be able to forgive myself." Shoaib also reiterated his commitment for the Pakistan team and said, "I have played with passion for Pakistan. It means something to me. I have turned down a lucrative contract with the ICL [Indian Cricket League]."
However, Pakistan board official Shafqat Naghmi said Shoaib would face a disciplinary committee hearing very soon. "Akhtar is suspended indefinitely until a disciplinary committee meeting. He is also issued a notice to explain his comments against a doping tribunal."
Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, who is also the PCB's patron-in-chief, reportedly directed the board to take strict action against Shoaib. "President Musharraf directed PCB chairman Nasim Ashraf to take strict action against Akhtar as the quarrel between him and Asif gave a bad name to Pakistan," private channel Geo reported.
Pakistan have asked the ICC to approve the uncapped allrounder Sohail Tanveer as the replacement for Shoaib. Their first game of the ICC World Twenty20 is against Scotland on Wednesday.