Wasim Akram: Cricketer Extraordinary and Captain Courageous

Ever since he took over at the helm before the Indian tour earlier this year, Akram has transformed a trouble-ridden Pakistan team into one single cohesive unit — his single biggest contribution.

Many of Pakistan’s successful young stars have been carefully nursed by Akram.   -  Getty Images

There was this picture, of the Pakistan team returning to the pavilion, taken in Calcutta this year, that caught one's attention.

What was striking about the snap was that even somebody who knew little about the game would have identified the captain of that side. No, the man was not in the front — that would have been a give-away — but bunched with some young cricketers in the middle. Yet, there was that presence, that air of authority, that aura about him that come only to true leaders. Wasim Akram is all that and more.

It was fitting that the skipper played a key role as Pakistan staged a fine recovery to win the crucial group clash against the West Indies at Bristol. But then he has always loved the big stage.

READ| 1999 World Cup: Mark Waugh carves a stroke to cherish

The first match of any campaign, especially if it happens to be against the unpredictable West Indians, is always a big hurdle, and Pakistan, despite having the worst of the weather in its run-up to the premier one-day competition — all its practice games were washed out — stood the test well.

Akram had a big smile at the conclusion of an engrossing tussle with several twists and he surely had his reasons.

His blazing onslaught on the Caribbean bowlers during a critical phase of the innings, his teasing spell with the ball, and above all, the manner in which he pulled the strings on the field were the high points of what was a tigerish display by Pakistan in its opening match.

READ| Mark Greatbatch leaves a mark on 1992 World Cup and Wasim Akram

Though the bulk of his runs came against non-regular bowlers, it was a well planned onslaught by Akram; the wily Pakistani knew he would have to take his chances against the part-timers and did just that with some telling hits on the on-side.

He was raring to have the strike, often compelling younger men like Azhar Mahmood and Moin Khan to Wasim Akram cracks Ricardo Powell during his hurricane innings to scamper for runs, and there was never a dull moment when he was in the middle. Without a doubt, a knock that took the game away from Brian Lara's team.

And then when the Pakistanis took the field to defend their score, the captain was in his elements. Stationing himself at mid-off, Akram often went up to Abdul Razzaq, and offered him words of wisdom, when the young pace bowler was having difficulty in controlling his swing. The result was there for all to see as Razzaq's bowling went up a few notches. A 'hands on' skipper, Akram's is an inspirational presence on the field.

Some of the things Akram said to Jonathan Agnew in the post-match conference at Bristol shed light on his aggressive instincts. Talking about his decision to bat first against the Windies quicks on a fresh wicket, he remarked about attack being the best form of defence. "If our batsmen can put 200 on the board, the bowlers can do the rest."

READ| 1979 World Cup final: When King brought England down

He sounded relieved at finally getting some runs against his name in a big game — a batsman of immense talent, Akram has often not done justice to his ability — and in a most unselfish manner highlighted the efforts of the younger members.

Ever since he took over at the helm before the Indian tour earlier this year, Akram has transformed a trouble-ridden Pakistan team into one single cohesive unit — his single biggest contribution.

True, he is said to have had his differences with Javed Miandad, leading to the latter's resignation as the coach, but that doesn't take away anything from the way Akram has handled his men. He has also not allowed the on-going investigation into the betting and bribery scandal to weigh him down.

Many of the successful young stars, Saqlain Mushtaq, Shoaib Akhtar, Azhar Mahmood, have been carefully nursed by Akram and no wonder these young men respond wonderfully to their skipper. It is a symbiotic relationship.

Indeed, Wasim Akram is Cricketer Extraordinary and Captain Courageous.

Edited excerpts from The Sportstar, May 29, 1999.