After Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul is my favourite cricketer: Sarim Akhtar [Interview]

After Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul is my favourite cricketer: Sarim Akhtar [Interview]

During the chat, he spoke about the meme during the 2019 World Cup and lavished praise on Indian cricket as well.

Interview with Sarim Akhtar.
Interview with Sarim Akhtar.

Back on June 12, 2019, during the World Cup, Pakistan and Australia locked horns in a fairly one-sided contest. The Aussies had won the match by 41 runs after David Warner’s 107. Mohammad Amir picked up a fifer and finished with incredible figures of 10-2-30-5, but his efforts went in vain.

Amidst the action on the field, it was a fan from the gallery who managed to grab the limelight. Asif Ali had dropped a catch off Wahab Riaz when Australia were racing along at 237 for three. After the missed chance, the fan, named Muhammad Sarim Akhtar, was seen with his hands on his hips with a disappointed look on his face.

In no time, his expression turned into meme material and even after two years, his reaction is being used as a meme of several comical posts on social media. As per his LinkedIn profile, Akhtar works at a managerial level at PricewaterhouseCoopers UK in London.

Amidst his busy schedule at work, he took time out for an exclusive interview with CricTracker. During the chat, he spoke about the meme and lavished praise on Indian cricket and their cricketers as well. Moreover, he didn’t forget to blend humour in his conversation.

Here are the excerpts from Muhammad Sarim Akhtar’s interview:

What was your first reaction when a meme was made of the pose?

It started coming in within 10-15 minutes and initially, I was surprised. The awkward moment I faced was when I saw a meme with someone else’s picture superimposed on my face. It required me to cross the hurdle of mental-block after seeing some other face on my body.

Ever since the meme went viral, people have been cheering for me across the world. Even people from the non-playing countries have been using it so often that even after two years, the meme is going strong.

Did you imagine you would get so much publicity and be in the limelight after the pose?

No, I didn’t anticipate that. As a cricket fan, you want to enjoy the atmosphere of a match if you go to a stadium. You want to get a glimpse of the highlights when the stadium screens capture you. I was sitting at the third man area where the ball goes frequently.

Since I was sitting near the boundary line, it was easier to capture me and the catch was dropped a few yards in front of me. There were fans, who gave the disappointed look right across the stadium. But I was caught because of the proximity with the fielder.

The realisation came in about 45 mins when the ICC camera crew and Zainab Abbas, the presenter, came over and informed me that my disappointed look has gone viral all over the world. She also requested my interview and that’s where it struck me.

You are working at a popular MNC… What was the initial reaction of your colleagues when you reached the office after your meme went viral?

As soon as I sat down, I got a few messages and calls on WhatsApp from my family and friends, who had seen me live. I asked them if they could record the live coverage so that I could keep the recording as it was a shining moment for me. When everyone came across the meme on social media, they thanked me for making them popular in their circles.

My immediate family, my wife and kids are now making fun of the meme. Even when I was preparing for the interview, they said ‘Oh, you are starting to get ready for your junk interview’. Social media is a virtual world of its own where I am, probably, a celebrity of sorts.

Your reaction to the Gandhiji photo morphing

It was humbling and it was one of the first few memes where people superimposed famous celebrities’ pictures over my face. There was also an instance when Jaya Bachchan’s picture was used on the meme when Amitabh Bachchan was ill.

What was running through your head when Asif Ali dropped the catch?

I knew Asif was new to the team and he faced a family tragedy before coming over for the World Cup. He had dropped a sitter at a stage when Pakistan were in danger of conceding a 350 plus score. There were a lot of emotions that I felt at that time regarding how a player at the international level could drop a simple catch.

I was also able to understand what he was going through after letting go of the important catch. Asif was also very disappointed and the nervousness in his body language showed.

How would you have reacted had you seen Rahat Ali drop Shane Watson off Wahab Riaz in the 2015 World Cup?

Similar kind of reaction. I am not someone of the character who would use explicit words or be verbal around it. I would use my face and expressions to convey my feelings.

Did you watch any match in the stadium live since that moment or are you planning to watch the upcoming ENG vs PAK series?

I am excited about the series. Till now there are no plans of watching the game live from the venues. I will be watching the matches from my lounge and home. If I get to go with friends, I will take up that opportunity.

How did your interest in cricket start?

Being brought up in a sub-continent country like Pakistan, I used to watch the game on a black-and-white TV and as I grew older enough, I was allowed to watch cricket matches in stadiums. One fond memory that I remember is from a Test match when India were visiting Pakistan. Within the first hour, Manoj Prabhakar got four or five wickets and Pakistan had lost five or six wickets for 70 runs.

The crowd started throwing bottles and stones on the ground. Police started using tear gas to control the spectators and I remember running out of the stadium. I also travelled from Karachi to Lahore to watch the World Cup final between Australia and Sri Lanka.

Tell us about the difference between Indian and Pakistani cricketers

India have performed well and I attribute that to the captains- Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. These players have managed to take India to greater heights. Then with the introduction of the IPL, the competitiveness in the game has gone up and India have benefitted tremendously. I never imagined that India would have so many fast bowlers.

But now, along with their famous spinners, their pacers have started taking wickets and obviously, batting has always been India’s forte. They have the best fielders, batters and bowlers and have contributed as a team. No wonder India are in the top two of the rankings.

In Pakistan, an odd man out is our current captain, Babar Azam. He is probably the most anti-Pakistani cricketer that you’ll come across because of his consistency. That’s not the way we play cricket, we are the most inconsistent cricket players around the world.  Now, a nucleus being formed around young players, who can excel when it comes to crunch moments.

Name one Pakistani fielder you wouldn’t want the ball to go

Over the years, there have been so many. When it came to the worst fielders, Pakistan topped the list. Saeed Anwar and Mohammad Yousuf’s fielding was atrocious. We have had very few players, who are good fielders. I am happy that the state of Pakistan’s fielding has improved to some extent.

Do you follow the IPL? If yes, which team are you backing this year to win the title?

I started by following the Rajasthan Royals, the reason being my fandom for Shane Warne and his captaincy. After Warne was out of the team, I switched and now, it’s Mumbai Indians. Players in the team have a personality of their own and they can turn around a match at any moment.

I also became a big fan of KL Rahul, who plays for Punjab Kings, as he’s one consistent performer in the IPL. I really hope for him to translate his form at the international arena. After Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, he’s my favourite player.

Do you think there should be a tournament between IPL and PSL teams?

Of course. It happened a couple of times when the Champions League T20 used to take place. The football model was followed for the tournament and it was a good concept.

Who’s your favourite Bollywood actor/actress?

In the current lot, Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh. Ranveer happened to come to the venue during Pakistan’s 2019 World Cup match against India. Ever since he came to the gallery and started clapping, Pakistan started losing wickets. But his presence made my day. So, Ranbir and Ranveer are the two actors I would pay to watch their movies.

Who’s your favourite among the current crop of bowlers?

In current form, it would be Jasprit Bumrah. He is at his peak right now, he’s consistent and he delivers whenever he is needed to take wickets for his team. Apart from him, I used to be a fan of Australian fast bowler Mitchell Starc.

But his form has gone down recently in the last couple of years. He’s tall and the way he delivers, it was amazing to see him live against Pakistan in a match where I became a meme as well. Starc was my second most favourite bowler.

Pick the semi-finalists of the T20 World Cup 2021

It would be England, India and New Zealand. These three teams are definitely going to be there. The fourth spot could be anyone’s. I’m surprised by the amount of talent in Afghanistan. In the T20 format, their players are capable of throwing big surprises. They may go on to become a semi-finalist, but it can be Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa as well.

Which team has a good chance of winning the T20 World Cup 2021?

It’s a difficult question because it’s only about one game. It’s not the same as the IPL when you go through a series of matches to decide the winner. I think India have a big chance of winning the World Cup, but their chances might have reduced as the event will take place in the UAE. India, New Zealand and England are powerhouses, and anyone can win.

Any other pose you think will go famous?

I think about it sometimes that why this pose and why not something else because fans give different kinds of reactions. Even recently in the World Test Championship final, there were a few fans, who had different kinds of reactions after Ajinkya Rahane’s dismissal. It’s just on the eyes and expression that becomes a universal reaction of disappointment.

Watch the full interview here: