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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Shoaib Akhtar is born - 'Rawalpindi Express' who just wanted to bowl menacingly quick

Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan celebrates taking the wicket of England's Andrew Strauss in 2010
Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan celebrates taking the wicket of England's Andrew Strauss in 2010
©Reuters

August 13, 1975 - The period between 1999 and 2004 was Akhtar's most successful phase in ODI cricket, in which he not only picked up heaps of wickets but did it at an excellent strike rate. 

 

What do people watch cricket for? Why do thousands upon thousands across the world are in love with the game? Watching a batsman in full flow, caressing the ball effortlessly to the boundary, is always fun but there's nothing like witnessing a fast bowler in full flight.

It provides an edge to the game when a fast bowler charges in. Cricket is not merely a sport then. It is the test of skill, yes, but also of temperament. Even batsmen blessed with the best of techniques begin to be tentative when a ball whizzes past at over 150 kph.

Shoaib Akhtar, arguably the fastest bowler to step on the cricket field in the modern era, frightened several batsmen with his raw pace and vicious bounce, leaving an indelible mark on the game.

Shoaib was born in Punjab's Rawalpindi in a mountainous locale. Nothing like the strong man he grew up to be, Akhtar had difficulty in walking till very late in his childhood due to his weak knees which remained a problem for him throughout his career.

The maverick trained with rocks on mountains as he got better to build his bowling muscles and believes that it prepared his body to cope with the load from an early age.

 

 

Akhtar made his first big breakthrough in international cricket in his ninth test match which he played against India at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. With India going well at 147/2, the ball started reverse swinging suddenly and Akhtar had the ball in hand to make hay.

Rahul Dravid, one of the most difficult batsmen to sneak past his defence, saw his leg stump uprooted off a ferocious yorker.

As the crowd at Eden Gardens admired the bowler, they welcomed arguably the greatest Indian batsman of all time Sachin Tendulkar to the middle. Akhtar, who was new to international cricket, was amazed at the reception and decided to try his best to dismiss the maestro off the first delivery that he faced.

There was a repeat of the fast, in-dipping yorker and the next thing you know was that Sachin's middle stump was out of the ground as well.

Akhtar shared a rivalry with Brett Lee, another great tearaway of his time, to claim the title of the fastest bowler. The slinger sent down a torpedo against Nick Knight in a 2003 World Cup match against England to breach the 100mph barrier. It also made Akhtar a household name.

Shoaib did not have the best figures against Australia and India in test cricket but averaged under 30 against all the other oppositions. Against New Zealand, he averages a scary 5.24.

The period between 1999 and 2004 was Akhtar's most successful phase in ODI cricket, in which he not only picked up heaps of wickets but did it at an excellent strike rate. 1999 was his most successful year in which the Rawalpindi Express picked up 38 wickets from 17 matches at an average of 18.68.

His figures began to decline from 2005 onwards, a year in which he picked up 13 wickets from 8 matches at an average of just over 35. There was some resurgence in 2006 and 2007 but that did not last long as Akhtar went off the rails post 2007.

 

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