Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Shoaib Akhtar's scorching yorkers take Pakistan to 1999 World Cup final
June 16, 1999 - How do you play a fullish, in-swinging delivery which pitches outside the off stump and comes back sharply to knock back your leg pole? This is probably the question that opener Nathan Astle would have asked himself as he walked back to the pavilion after being clean bowled by Shoaib Akhtar.
In the first semi-final of the 1999 World Cup, Pakistan were playing against New Zealand at the Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester. The match was expected to be a closely-fought encounter. However, when Shoaib Akhtar crossed the 90 mph mark on just his fourth delivery of the day, you knew that the Rawalpindi Express was not short of steam.
As Pakistan celebrated the wicket of Astle, Tony Greig's iconic commentary made the moment eternal:
"O! bowled him, clean bowled him," Greig squeaked in his typical style. "What a delivery! Pakistan have struck in the semi-final. Shoaib Akhtar is the man to have taken the first wicket and they are dancing in the aisles."
What do you do when in the midst of the hottest day of the year at Manchester, with a flat pitch in front of you and a 20,000-strong Pakistani crowd expectant of victory? To make matters worse, what do you do as a fast bowler when edges are not carrying to the slips and the fielders are not doing the job they are meant to do i.e fielding? If you are Shoaib Akhtar, you just uproot the stumps. Easy as you like.
By the time Shoaib Akhtar came back for his second spell, Roger Twose and Stephen Fleming were trying to stitch a partnership. New Zealand had scored 133 after 31 overs and though the going was slow, they were gradually setting themselves up for a total around 270.
Fleming was looking quite comfortable at the crease and had stroked five sublime boundaries. The last of them came against Akhtar as the batsman rocked back and cut the ball through cover-point. This provoked the pacer to bring out his best.
The tearway produced what was the best ball of the tournament. He released an in-swinging yorker at 92 mph which took away Fleming's leg stump along with it. Fleming was so late on the shot that he was not even through with half the shot by the time his stumps were all over the place.
Having stemmed New Zealand's run flow, the speedster came back for his final spell to wrap things up. He bowled a slower ball which hit Chris Harris' leg stump as Akhtar finished with figures of 10-55-3.
Talking about the ultimate joy for a fast bowler after he retired from international cricket, Akhtar had said, "To be able to run in without pain. With rhythm like a smooth river. There have been only a few days in my life when I felt like that. And I just wanted to bowl and bowl and bowl all day. And then stumps tumbling around. The sound of the ball hitting the stumps."
Perhaps, this was one of those days.
Pakistan's opening pair of Saeed Anwar and Wajahatullah Wasti made easy work of the target and chased it down with two and a half overs to spare. Despite an unbeaten century from Anwar, Shoaib Akhtar was awarded with the Man of the Match.
On most occasions, three wickets don't bring you the award, especially when pitted against a century, but the Man of the Match was a recognition of Akhtar's impact on the match.
The Rawalpindi Express finished the 1999 World Cup as Pakistan's second-highest wicket-taker, behind off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, with 16 wickets from 10 matches at an average of 24.44.
© Cricket World 2020