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by Salim Parvez Wednesday 31 July 2019
A contemporary of Wajahatullah Wastii, Younis Khan and Yasir Hameed of the accomplished batting line-up that powered Peshawar to its first ever Quaid-i-Azam Trophy title in 1998-99. In a historic win against Karachi Whites in the final at Karachi, Akhtar scored 98 whilst sharing a stand worth 233 runs for the 5th wicket with Wasti (135), in his side’s match-winning total of 526.
Born in Peshawar on February 20, 1976, Akhtar’s family originated from Tormang village in Lower Dir in NWFP (now Pakhtunkhwa). Cricket was a passion to the family as three brothers - others being Zafar Sarfraz and Irfan Sarfraz – would go on to represent the region at first-class level.
A left-handed batsman, Akhtar merited his inclusion for Peshawar in the 1992-93 National u-19 cricket and two years later walked into the senior side for his first-class debut in 1994-95.
Promoted up the order, his first major innings in senior cricket was as an opener, carrying his bat in scoring 134n.o out (242) in his side’s second innings against Bahawalpur at Bahawalpur in 1995-96. In the following winter, he repeated the feat, whilst reaching 104n.o out (309) against Rawalpindi at Peshawar.
Akhtar accompanied Pakistan 'A' on the tours of Bangladesh (SAARC Quadrangular) 1996-97, Malaysia (Commonwealth Games) 1998-99, New Zealand (1998-99) and Abu Dhabi 1999-2000. The highlight being, his match-winning 90 against India ‘A’ at Sheikhupura in 1997-98, earning him the ‘Man of the Match’ award. It was to remain his highest limited overs innings as his List A career amounted to 2636 runs @ 35.62 with 22 fifties.
In the four ODIs for Pakistan, Akhtar’s aggregate of 66, with a top score of run-a-ball 25 against West Indies, was far from satisfying as Pakistan selectors tried him in the middle order, for the three-nation Champions Trophy in Sharjah in 1997-98 and the Mini World Cup in Bangladesh in 1998-99.
In November 2000, playing for Governor’s XI against the touring England side, Akhtar scored a defiant 53 in his side’s defeat at Peshawar. A caught behind verdict given in the batsman’s favour by umpire Sajjad Asghar, resulted in paceman Andrew Caddick throwing abuse at Akhtar and the standard of umpiring in Pakistan.
In a 118-match first-class career (1994-95 to 2006-07), most whilst representing Peshawar and National Bank of Pakistan, Akhtar scored 5720 runs @ 36.43 with 13 hundreds and additional 33 fifties. He had 57 catches and as an occasional left-arm medium pace, picked up 4 wickets @ 58.50.
His consistency with the bat reflected with crossing the 500 first-class runs mark in seven seasons with 2000-01 being his highest aggregate when he scored 903 runs @ 43.00. Akhtar’s highest innings – 162 off 200 balls in his side’s total of 260 – against Karachi Whites at KCCA Stadium in 1995-96, was another occasion when he produced a quality knock, with Peshawar on the back foot.
Akhtar took up several roles for PCB, including regional coach besides also being a selector for the Pakistan Women team.
PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani’s words sums up Akhtar’s profile,
“The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is shocked to hear the sad news of Akhtar’s passing. It is very difficult to accept and comprehend if you lose someone from the cricket fraternity, particularly as young and lively as Akhtar who was admired, respected and loved by everyone,”
“It’s tragic that death cut short his life at such a young age, but he will live in our memories for a very long period. On behalf of the PCB, I want to extend my deepest condolences to Akhtar’s family and assure them that in these difficult times, we stand firmly with them.”