Cricket World Cup History: Looking back at the career of Wasim Akram, hero of Pakistan’s 1992 triumph
The most striking thing about Wasim Akram was that he was as brilliant a fast bowler in ODIs as in Test matches. Even more commendable, he was an attacking bowler in one-day cricket as well. Therein lies Wasim Akram’s true greatness, and it is hardly surprising that he became the first bowler to capture 400 wickets at the highest level in both versions of the game.
Akram was also an exhilarating striker with the bat, with a propensity to playing cameos. He had a highest score of 257 not out in Tests, with three hundreds, albeit no century in one-dayers.
Did anyone see Akram bowl defensively? How could he when he was doing so many different things - slanting the ball away and then bringing it in, bowling fast, short deliveries and slower ones, bouncing them one minute and pushing through yorkers the next, and well directed most of the time. Without a doubt, he was one of the most exciting bowlers to watch.
There was action all the way since the time this big man started on his short, straight run-up, and then delivered with his quick arm action, sending the ball on its unpredictable course. In Akram’s bowling there was energy and vitality, an electricity that was almost visible to the discerning eye.
By the 1987 World Cup, Akram was beginning to vie with the ageing Imran as the No. 1 bowler, though the charismatic Khan was still something special and Wasim a young colt on the learning curve. Imran was nearly 35, and Akram just 21.
They had similar figures in the opening match against Sri Lanka at the Niaz Stadium, Hyderabad (Sind). Imran took two for 42 off 10 overs, while Akram bagged two for 41 in 9.2 overs.
Thereafter the seasoned pro stole a march over the rising star. Akram’s day would come, surely.
He took two for 45 off 10 overs in the thrilling win over the West Indies. Though wicketless in the next two matches, he swung his bat merrily at the Sri Lankan bowling, having been given the opportunity to bat at No. 5. Akram slammed 39 off 40 balls with 2 sixes and 2 fours, and figured in a whirlwind partnership of 60 for the fourth wicket with Salim Malik.
He bowled splendidly in the last league encounter even though West Indies handed Pakistan their first defeat in the competition. He went through the defense of Phil Simmons early in the innings, and knocked back the stumps of the great Vivian Richards in his last innings in the World Cup. Richards (67) had put on 137 for the third wicket with Richie Richardson. Akram also castled Roger Harper to finish with three for 45 off his 10 overs.
Contrary to expectations, the semi-final against Australia at Lahore was not a happy one for Pakistan, nor for Akram. He ended up without a wicket and it was apparent that he had still some way to go before he matured into a top-class bowler, particularly on lifeless wickets.
Sent in at No. 6 to perk up the scoring-rate, he smashed 2 sixes in his hurricane 20 off 13 balls, but that wasn't enough.
In 1992 Akram was close to his peak, and the wickets too were more suitable. Imran returned for one last crack at the title but now, a few months short of 40, he was more of a batsman, and Akram the leading bowler.
Pakistan, however, did not get off to a good start in this tournament, going down to the West Indies by 10 wickets. The next match against newcomers Zimbabwe posed fewer problems with Imran returning after injury. Akram was in irresistible form, dismissing the two Andys, Flower and Pycroft, to reduce the Zimbabweans to 14 for two.
He came back later to remove the third Andy, Waller, and snuff out the last vestiges of resistance. Akram finished with three for 21, in the process completing 150 wickets in ODIs, only the second Pakistani then to achieve the feat after the peerless Imran.
In the abandoned match against England at Adelaide, Akram had time only to have Graham Gooch caught behind before the rain came down. Next was a humiliating defeat in Sydney at the hands of India, with Akram off-colour. The South Africans also beat Pakistan but Akram picked up two wickets for 42 in his 10 overs.
The Pakistani recovery began in Perth with a fine win over hosts Australia. Akram bagged two for 28 off 7.2 overs to seal the victory.
Sri Lanka were duly brushed aside with Akram picking up the wicket of opener Roshan Mahanama.
Pakistan’s final league match in Christchurch against the unconquered New Zealanders was crucial if they were to make it to the semi-finals. They rose to the occasion and Akram, the champion bowler, was devastating.
He trapped Andrew Jones leg-before, and then struck a death blow, having skipper Martin Crowe caught by Aamir Sohail. New Zealand slumped to 96 for seven, and then 106 for eight.
They recovered somewhat to reach 150 but Akram, in a final burst, consumed the last two wickets to leave his side a modest 167 for a win. Akram’s final figures were four for 32 off 9.2 overs.
Pakistan achieved the target easily to set up a semi-final clash again with New Zealand at Auckland.
The penultimate round saw a closely contested match in which Pakistan pipped the Kiwis. Akram took two for 40 in 10 overs as his side entered the final for the first time.
Then came the big test, the first final under lights, at the imposing Melbourne Cricket Ground. The old war-horses Imran Khan and Javed Miandad steadied Pakistan after early reverses.
Akram was sent in at No. 6 to boost the run-rate. And how well did he carry out his brief! He belted 33 off just 19 deliveries with four boundaries, adding 52 in a flash with Inzaman-ul-Haq and helping Pakistan reach 249.
Akram had not finished yet. With the big prize now in sight, he was like a man possessed. He quickly rocked the English boat by having Ian Botham caught behind for a duck.
Later, the fifth-wicket pair of Neil Fairbrother and Allan Lamb dug in with a stand of 72 to carry England to 141 for four. The game was still in the balance. It was then that Imran brought Akram back into the attack.
He struck a stunning blow by clean bowling Lamb. Then off the very next ball he shattered Chris Lewis’ stumps to create a sensation around the stadium. Akram had suddenly turned the match decisively in Pakistan’s favour.
After that the chase was never really on. Akram finished with three for 49. Pakistan lifted the Cup and their real hero was Akram. His all-round histrionics had won them the biggest prize in one-day cricket.
Without a shadow of doubt the man-of-the-match was Akram. Pakistan cricket’s proudest hour was one of Akram’s finest.
There was some kind of a hoodoo about the hosts never winning the World Cup. In 1996 it was Pakistan’s turn to stage the final and they were keen to break the jinx, with Akram now at the helm.
They brushed aside the United Arab Emirates, winners of the ICC Trophy for the associate members. Akram took two for 25 in 7 overs, though opener Saleem Raza took some runs off him including a big six over square-leg.
Their second match was also against a lightweight outfit, Holland, and Pakistan won at a canter.
Pakistan stumbled at the first hurdle as South Africa trounced them. Akram showed flashes of his brilliance as a batsman with some big hitting; he scored a rapid-fire unbeaten 32 off just 25 balls with three fours. But he fared poorly with the ball, and the South Africans cruised to a comfortable win.
Akram’s side got its act together to decimate England. There was another comfortable win over New Zealand in the last group match, and Akram gave one more rare glimpse of his prowess with the willow.
He joined Salim Malik at 200 for five with less than 10 overs left. They launched a tremendous assault, belting 80 runs before the close of the innings. Akram hit 28 not out off 26 deliveries, but while making one of his big hits he strained his side and was unable to bowl.
The injury prevented Akram from playing in the high-voltage quarter-final against India. All hell broke loose when Pakistan lost, and all kinds of allegations were made - including insinuations that Akram had faked his injury in order to avoid playing this match.
Akram and his teammates had to keep a low profile till public fury abated. It was a sad way for the defending champions to exit from the tournament.
Not surprisingly for Pakistan cricket, Akram was captain again in 1999. The side was in strife at a dismal 135 for six as it took on the West Indies. But Akram hit a whirlwind 43 off just 29 balls with 2 sixes and 4 fours to bail out the team; it was the top score of the innings. His 74-run seventh-wicket partnership with Azhar Mahmood swung the match Pakistan’s way.
The next sojourn against rookies Scotland should have been comfortable, but Pakistan slumped to 92 for five before Yousuf Youhana and Moin Khan staged a recovery. Akram walked in at 195 for six and was in his element again, smashing an unbeaten 37 off 19 deliveries with 2 sixes and 2 fours. He allied with the young Youhana as they blazed away in an unbroken partnership of 66.
Akram then rattled the Scottish batsmen in tandem with Shoaib Akhtar, reducing them to 19 for five. He finally finished with three for 23 off 7.5 overs as Pakistan wrapped up their second victory.
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The first big test came against Australia. Akram helped boost his side’s total to 275 with a quickfire 13 off 12 balls. He was then devastating with the ball, scattering Adam Gilchrist’s stumps for a duck in the first over.
He returned later to make a huge breakthrough, having Michael Bevan caught by Ijaz Ahmed. ‘Terminator’ Bevan, who scored 61, was taking the game away from Pakistan, having put on 113 for the fifth wicket with skipper Steve Waugh.
In the tense last over, with Australia requiring 11 runs off 4 deliveries, Akram smashed through Damien Martyn’s defence, and repeated the dose two balls later on last man Glenn McGrath.
Pakistan scraped through by 10 runs in a high-scoring match, and Akram finished with four for 40 in 9.5 overs.
With his team riding a crest, Akram had a quiet time in an easy win over New Zealand. But if Pakistan felt they were in the comfort zone, they were in for a rude shock.
The gritty Bangladeshis, playing their first World Cup, scored a respectable 223 for nine. Pakistan ran into trouble straightaway, literally, with their poor running between wickets. Medium-pacer Khaled Mahmud did just as much damage.
In between, Akram tried to shore up the innings with a 55-run sixth-wicket stand with Azhar Mahmood. But his side collapsed to 161 all out in one of the most stunning upsets in World Cup history.
Some months later, when the match-fixing scandal broke, this game was one of those cited as being tanked by Pakistan. Whatever the truth, suddenly alarm bells began to ring for Akram.
He hardly made his presence felt as his team went down to South Africa in their first super-six match. He then committed a gaffe by terming the upcoming encounter against India as a ‘practice match’, prompting television commentator Geoffrey Boycott to exclaim in his inimitable style: "Practice match! But they haven’t reached the semi-final yet."
Some practice match it was, for Pakistan slumped to a 47-run defeat, extending the dubious distinction of never having been able to beat India in the World Cup.
Akram bowled tidily to pick up the wickets of Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Azharuddin. He finished with two for 27 off his 10 overs, but his batsmen faltered. This match too was to be labelled later as fixed.
By now Pakistan, one of the favourites, who had won their first four matches on the trot, were facing the prospect of being eliminated from the tournament. However, they rose to the occasion and annihilated surprise qualifiers Zimbabwe, even as Akram played a peripheral role.
Pakistan had an easy ride in the semi-final against New Zealand with Akram picking up two for 45. But on the day of reckoning at Lord’s, they choked.
Akram had to rest content with the runners-up prize as Australia ran away easy victors. There was to be no repeat for Akram of that glorious triumph of 1992.
The 2003 World Cup was his swansong, and at the start he shook the invincible Aussies. Reveling in cloudy weather and a still-moist wicket, he had Adam Gilchrist snapped up by skipper Waqar Younis for 1.
Matthew Hayden tried to attack but edged one on to the stumps. The next ball came in sharply to the right-handed Damien Martyn, who barely managed a nick before it castled him. The reigning champions were reeling at 52 for three.
A stupendous knock by Andrew Symonds bailed them out. Akram finished with three for 64.
The Pakistani batsmen never measured up to the task of chasing a 300-plus score. Joining Rashid Latif at 147 for seven, Akram played a typically belligerent knock. He swung his bat around for 33 off 31 balls, slamming 4 fours and a six. The pair added 54 runs before the inevitable.
This was really the final flicker, for henceforth Akram shone only against the minnows. The greenhorns from Namibia were mesmerized by his brilliance. Enjoying himself briefly once again with the willow, he smashed an unbeaten 20 off 14 deliveries with 3 boundaries.
Then in tandem with Shoaib Akhtar he reduced the new entrants from Africa to 42 for nine, before the last pair doubled the score. Akram grabbed five for 28 off 9 overs, becoming the first bowler to capture 50 wickets in the World Cup. He also took away his second man-of-the-match award of the showpiece event.
Between two demoralizing defeats at the hands of England and India, in which Akram was below par, Pakistan trounced Holland. The great left-armer created history by taking his 500th wicket in ODIs, setting a new benchmark for others to emulate. He dismissed three Dutch batsmen for 24 in one final display of incisiveness.
Rain curtailed the last fixture with Zimbabwe. Pakistan were not destined to go beyond the first stage this time.
Akram, the then top wicket-taker in the World Cup, carved out a niche for himself. Controversy needlessly marred his career, but each time he came back firing on all cylinders.
Maybe if such unpleasant and frequent diversions did not hamper his path, forcing him to remind his detractors time and again of the matchless skills at his command, Akram would have been an even more astounding cricketer. What makes his achievements even more remarkable is that he was dogged by diabetes in the latter years of his career.
There are also those who say that he did not realize his full batting potential. They are perhaps right, for his failure to score even a single half-century in five World Cups, during which he played 30 innings, does not do justice to his reputation as an exciting all-rounder.
But it is not easy to come up with big scores for one who batted at No. 6 and No. 7 in one-day games. At the same time, it has to be said that Akram did not cash in on the opportunities that came his way.
It is remarkable that he has a batting strike-rate of above 100 for one who played 30 innings in the World Cup. Some players are referred to as batsmen who bowl occasionally. Akram was a great bowler who batted in a sensational manner occasionally.
In the context of the World Cup though, he will always be remembered for his exhilarating performance in the 1992 final.
Wasim Akram’s World Cup record:
Matches 38, Highest Score 43, Runs 426, Average 19.36, Strike-rate 101.18, Catches 8
Wickets 55, Average 23.83, Best 5/28, Economy 4.04Published 31 May 2019, 03:16 IST