About the worst way to assess Shoaib Akhtar would be to do so through his numbers; they aren't unimpressive but rarely have they revealed so little.
From the moment Shoaib emerged on the scene in the late 90s, the world knew it was in for some career. First there was the extreme pace and there was also the attitude; Shoaib was the fastest bowler in the world, he knew it, he made sure others knew it. He was a natural successor to the legacy of Imran, Wasim and Waqar. But that he will end his career an 'if only' or a 'coulda been' is the great tragedy. He had it all and he blew it.
What he had was remarkable. Early on, in 1999, there wasn't a more thrilling sight in the world than Shoaib hurtling in off an impossibly long run and beating the world's best batsmen for pace. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar were clean bowled off successive deliveries at Eden Gardens and the World Cup in England later in the year was all but Shoaib's.
Other peaks came intermittently, but from 2004 to 2006, he rediscovered a spark; the trophy was the home series win over England in 2005-06 in which he took 17 wickets. By this time not only was he still very, very quick, but he had become an extremely smart bowler, an oft-underrated aspect of his development.
But it was a false dawn and a last hurrah. In between whiles and after, there have been as many lows. The list of misdemeanours is impossibly long; doubts about his action, ball-tampering offences, beating up his own team-mates, courtroom battles against his board, long bans and heavier fines, serious career-threatening injuries and most damagingly, doping charges. In his time, he missed more than half of the Tests Pakistan played.
So much so that what he did on the field had long ago ceased to matter and has been eclipsed by his scrapes off the field. For any sportsman, that is a damning indictment.