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by Saksham Mishra & Cricket World Wednesday 3 June 2020
Many believe that it was Imran Khan who first spotted the young pacer but, in fact, it was Javed Miandad who saw the talent in an 18-year-old Wasim Akram and ensured that he was picked straightaway for a First-Class match against an international visiting team.
Akram was a part of the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan Patron's XI against New Zealand at Rawalpindi in November, 1984. He picked up seven wickets in the first innings and within a few days made his ODI debut against the Kiwis.
It was the student in Akram which inspired him to try different things with the ball. Fast bowling in those years had stagnated quite a bit and it needed somebody like an Akram to throw open the possibilities before the game.
Akram began working on his skills and by the early 90s, he mastered every possible ball, and from every angle. The incoming delivery into the right-hander from a left-arm bowler, which is so successfully employed by the likes of Mitchell Starc in modern-day cricket, became popular only after Akram bewildered the batsmen with his newly learnt art.
The pacer could jag the ball back in and out, from both over and round the wicket, bowl the bouncer and the slower one, swing it early and late. Hence, he always kept the batsmen honest.
The most memorable moment of Akram's career came in the final of the Benson and Hedges World Cup in 1992 when he dismissed Allan lamb and Chris Lewis on back-to-back unplayable deliveries. This came on the back of an 18-ball 33 that took Pakistan to a decent score of 249. As a result, Akram was given the Player of the Match in the final and took his team to World Cup glory.
In the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, Akram became only one of the two bowlers to pick up 500 wickets or more in ODIs. He ended with 502 ODI wickets, just behind Muttiah Muralitharan, retiring shortly after the showpiece event.
The years when Akram was at his absolute best were between January, 1992 and December, 1997 when the left-arm quick picked up 240 wickets from just 48 matches at an average of 20.05 and a strike rate of 46.4. Akram bagged 16 five-wicket hauls and 13 10-wicket hauls in this period, beating his contemporaries Curtly Ambrose, Allan Donald, Waqar Younis and Glenn McGrath.
Akram was awarded the Man of the Match 12 times during this time, a remarkable one award in every four matches. The master finished with 414 Test wickets, the most by any left-arm pacer in the history of the game at an average 23.62 and a strike rate of 54.6.
Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Wasim Akram is born - the Sultan of Swing Happy Birthday ??pic.twitter.com/DhuALERSuq— Cricket World (@Cricket_World) June 3, 2020
Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Wasim Akram is born - the Sultan of Swing Happy Birthday ??pic.twitter.com/DhuALERSuq
Like most great bowlers, Akram had this tendency of running through sides which is why, he was no stranger to hat-tricks. The Pakistani has four international hat tricks - two in Test cricket (in back to back Test matches against Sri Lanka in 1999) and two in ODIs (in 1989 and 1998, both in Sharjah).
The Sultan of Swing was no mug with the bat and could have become a genuine all-rounder had he put his mind to it. He had it in him to score in tough conditions as his first hundred in Australia suggests. Akram finished with a Test average of 22.64 with the bat, including three centuries and the best of unbeaten 257 against Zimbabwe.
Akram's reputation took a hit when he found his name embroiled in match-fixing in the Qayyum report of 2000. However, his legacy still stands tall as the greatest left-arm pacer to ever play the game.
© Cricket World 2020