From foe to friend, Rawalpindi Express wins Kolkatans' hearts

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Kolkata, May 14 (UNI) Nearly a decade ago, the Eden Gardens used to be silent on the appearance of Shoaib Akhtar, the then No 1 foe among the cricket frenzy Eden crowd, and his lethal deliveries.

However, last night, the same arm became touchstone for the 65,000-strong crowd, who went wild and endeared the Pakistani as 'saviour'.

Since his arrival, the 33-year-old speedster has aroused curiosity in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

His non-inclusion in last two matches on fitness grounds fuelled speculations, though he remained the first catch for the media. His movement has been a prime writeup matter for scribes whether he was really hiding any injury.

But on his debut in the IPL and a magical 3-0-11-4 spell wiped out all doubts after flooring Delhi Daredevil's four top order batsmen beginning with hitman Virender Shewag.

He remained true to his commitment saying Eden was his favorite ground.

Nearly 100, 000 cricket lovers in Eden were spellbound as two successive deliveries sent back master blaster Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid in 1999.

Since then the 'Rawalpindi Express' had become most fearsome paceman, thus the Indian crowd, particularly, Kolkata rating him as the most dreaded enemy.

However, he changed the equation since his arrival here from one month suspension of his five-year punishment by Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on disciplinary ground and Kolkata taking him as their ''own boy''.

When Shoaib Akhtar called Kolkata his new home, everyone wondered what he meant. ''My money comes from Kolkata Knight Riders,'' he replied during an interview yesterday.

The ''Man-of-the-Match'' Akhtar told the crowd at the Eden Gardens that KKR had badly needed a win in the 8-team competition and he was fortunate enough to be a part of the winning team.

The win jacked up KKR to the fourth spot on the IPL table, two points clear of the Delhi Daredevil's eight points from nine outings.

Calender date 13, perhaps to augur a fresh turning point for the controversial pacer, whose Eden feat last evening coincided with his birth date of August 13, 1975.

He justified his paypack of moderate 425,000 dollars, the sum he was auctioned by the Shar Rukh Khan's KKR, though the movie mogul knew the ''Ralwalpindi Express' was embroiled in controversy with PCB.

''SRK's special affinity with speedster and Sourav Ganguly's firm belief in him made the Pakistani bowler a humble man, who still has to fight a legal battle to clear his indisciplined tag in his real home (Pakistan),'' said a cricket fan.

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