We’re a strange bunch. We really are. When we love our heroes, we put them on the pedestal all the way to the PM House. And the ones we hate, we hate with such a passion that we don’t just rejoice when they fail, we want them to fail so we rejoice.
That is the tragedy called Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad.
From Saleem Jaffar to Wasim Akram to Shoaib Akhtar and some others, several have held the unwanted title of being the most hated athlete in Pakistan. When Salman Butt held it, it seemed almost impossible that anyone would ever take it off of him.
Then came the two boys from Lahore who flipped the script. Both have been thrown multiple lifelines over the years but neither has grabbed any. They’ve hung around for so long that if 'Pakistan’s most notorious cricketer' was an accolade, Shehzad and Akmal would have had multiple trophies sitting in their display cabinets.
The latest in their long line of disappointments was their twin outings against Sri Lanka in the T20I series.
Shehzad scored 17 across two innings while Akmal, the more notorious of the two, was out on a golden duck each time. Not only did they embarrass themselves, they were out in similar fashion in both the matches; Akmal was out lbw and his partner bowled out — an indication that whatever shortcomings they had, they still have.
But many before them have also failed, failed some more and even embarrassed themselves under the glare of scrutiny. The case of these two is different though. Each and every stumble of Akmal jr and Shehzad has been wildly celebrated by their critics to the point that it makes one wonder: are they abhorred because of what they do or what they are?
And it’s hard to argue that what they are is not by their own fault. Akmal’s many, many transgressions, including failed fitness tests, run-ins with traffic wardens, spats with coaches and what not, are all his doing.
He in particular has borne the brunt of criticism, and inspired uncountable memes ranging from funny to hilarious to downright disrespectful.
Shehzad’s selfies and self-regard on social media may have been annoying to some, but that was the limit of that. He then did himself no favours with constant disciplinary violations, confrontations, failed doping tests and the cherry on the top: his attempt to convert Tillakaratne Dilshan on the field of play.
But whoever knows cricket knows that underneath all the baggage and heaps of steaming garbage, there existed two talents — talents that at one point years ago were even deemed generational. The word ‘talented’ has been used so much and for so long for these two, it has itself become a separate joke. But let’s not transgress.
Point being that the two sportsmen who had the makings of superstars, who came through the right setups, and who were identified and inducted early, have now reduced themselves to laughing stocks. They had the goods before they became damaged goods.
To quote Robert De Niro from the movie A Bronx Tale, "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent" — and these two have wasted their gifts. That, and the fact that the entire nation sees only the comic side of it, is a shame.
This is tragic, too, as much as anything else.
The writer is a cricket aficionado based in Karachi. He sells cars by day and writes sports by night.