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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Shoaib Akhtar breaches 100-mph barrier

Shoaib Akhtar
Shoaib Akhtar
©Action Images / Jason O'Brien LivePic
Shoaib Akhtar
Shoaib Akhtar
©Action Images / Jason O'Brien LivePic

April 27, 2002 - Shoaib Akhtar had been after the 100-mph mark ever since his ODI debut in 1998, and achieved it in 2002 in a match against New Zealand at Lahore. Next year, the 'Rawalpindi Express' officially breached the barrier at the 2003 World Cup.

Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee, the fastest bowlers of their generation, had been pushing towards 100-mph mark for three years. Akhtar arrived first, according to a device provided by a local Internet company, breaking Jeff Thomson's 27-year-old record of 99.8 mph or 160.5kph.

Speed measuring devices had only come in vogue at international cricket matches since around 1998. Many and Thomson himself reckon that the Aussie was the fastest bowler to have ever played the game. That may or may not be true, but there certainly were a few instances of seriously quick bowling which went unrecorded due to the absence of the speed gun.

Pakistan were playing New Zealand in Lahore in 2002. The hosts set the Kiwis a tough target of 278 in the third match of the series. Unlike the record that the match was going to see, there was not much riding on the game per se as Pakistan had already won the first two games to bag the series.

In the chase, Akhtar shared the new ball with Waqar Younis. Younis, who was seriously quick in his heyday, was nowhere close to the bowler he once used to be. Back injuries had led him to revamp his action and cut down on pace. From the other end, Akhtar, who was four-five years into his ODI career but had already made a name for himself, was sending down thunderbolts.

In line with the epithet of 'Rawalpindi Express' that Tony Greig had given him, the pacer was steaming into the station. He bowled many deliveries with speeds in excess of 99 mph, agonisingly short of the magic mark. Akhtar, who later revealed that he was down with fever during the game, clearly beat the illness to deliver a ball at the speed of 99.3 mph (159 kph) to Craig McMillan. 

If McMillan had though that he had already negotiated the best of Akhtar, he was proved wrong the very next ball. Coming off his trademark long run-up, Akhtar clocked 100.04 mph (161 Kph) to finally break the barrier.

It was a real damper that the International Cricket Council later did not accept the reading. The PCB seconded the authenticity of the speed gun that was provided by one of the sponsors, but many reports claimed that the speed was not actually 100.04 mph but 99.9 mph (160.7 kph).

That did not seem to bother Akhtar too much as he achieved the feat on the international stage again and that too in the showpiece tournament of cricket.  Akhtar bowled a 161.3 kph delivery in a World Cup Group A match at the Newlands Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa in February 22, 2003.

The 161.3km/h ball completed a maiden over bowled at England's Nick Knight in what was the fastest recorded over in history. Shoaib's second over recorded speeds of 153.3km/h, 158.4km/h, 158.5km/h, 157.4km/h, 159.5km/h, 161.3km/h with a ridiculous average of 158.06km/h. 

After officially breaching the 100-mile barrier, he said, "It doesn't matter to me whether somebody recognises the speed gun or not. For me, it's satisfying that I have bowled the fastest-ever delivery."

Apart from Australia's Brett Lee, who was the front runner in the 'pace race' against the Pakistani quick through their playing days and clocked 161.1kmh against New Zealand in 2005, Shaun Tait came close to Akhtar's record, matching his countryman's speed at The Lord's against England in 2010.


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