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Akhtar calls it quits

COLOMBO, March 17- Pakistan's maverick paceman Shoaib Akhtar, whose colourful career has been a heady mix of on-field brilliance and off-field controversy, will quit international cricket after the World Cup.

Akhtar made up his mind after Pakistan’s 110-run defeat against New Zealand last week, in which he went for 70 runs in his nine overs.

"I have decided to retire. Mentally I wanted to go on forever but I have decided to make way for the youngsters," the 35-year-old said on Thursday.

"I have no regrets. I made lots of friends but some people have misunderstood me. I thank all the players who played with me and against me.

"It was an honour to have played with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. I never imagined I would play for Pakistan. It was my greatest moment.

"Pakistan’s last match in this World Cup will also be my last. I hope that will be the final on April 2."

After his mauling against New Zealand, Akhtar was dropped for the match against Zimbabwe on Monday and was thought to be an unlikely starter for Saturday’s last Group A match against Australia.

Akhtar, who made his international debut in 1997, took 178 wickets in 46 Tests, the last of which was against India at Bangalore in 2007.

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He is three wickets short of 250 in 163 one-day internationals and has taken 19 wickets in 15 Twenty20 internationals.

Pakistan squad members hugged him in the dressing room on Thursday before captain Shahid Afridi embraced him as the players entered the R. Premadasa stadium in Colombo for practice.

"I want to be remembered as an honest and patriotic player who never trod a wrong path," said Akhtar.

Akhtar, known as the Rawalpindi Express during his tearaway days as one of Test cricket’s most feared if unpredictable talents, once cracked the 100mph barrier at the 2003 World Cup.

His career will always be remembered for a series of fitness problems, discipline violations as well as a doping offence that put the brakes on achieving his true potential.

Most recently he was fined $2,000 for breaching discipline after the defeat to New Zealand following an on-field spat.

Akhtar and the now banned Mohammad Asif failed drugs tests in 2006 and were suspended for two years and one year respectively, both of which were lifted on appeal.

Fitness problems forced him to miss the 2007 World Cup while he was fined heavily and banned for 13 ODIs after he hit Asif with a bat two days before the 2007 World Twenty20 in South Africa.

In 2008 he was banned for five years after publicly criticising the Pakistan Cricket Board following his exclusion from the list of centrally contracted players.

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The ban was reduced to 18 months by a tribunal, which levied a fine of 7.0 million Pakistani rupees ($105,000 at the time). His appeal against the ban is still pending.

Coach Waqar Younis and Afridi praised Akhtar, for whom the 2011 World Cup was always likely to be his swansong.

"I think he served the team and country well and it’s a graceful way to leave the game to make room for youngsters," said Waqar.

Afridi said Akhtar was a great team-mate.

"Akhtar always tried his best for the team and we wish him every success in his life," said Afridi.

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