On This Day: Second ODI hat-trick for Wasim Akram

Wasim Akram got the Aussie tailenders off three successive deliveries in the Australasia final, to claim his second hat-trick in one-day cricket.

Wasim Akram all-round contributions made him a match-winner for Pakistan.   -  Hindu Archives

They have made winning a habit in Sharjah. The Pakistanis consider this little cricketing oasis in the Emirates their backyard. They have the fanatical support of a crowd that turns up to cheer them to victory.

More vitally, the Pakistanis have the cricketing skills to win. Without that no victory is possible. The Australasia Cup is to remain with Pakistan. This is not a trophy the side has ever won easily.

The first Cup came its way at the last gasp. The second may have come just a shade easier but make no mistake. The Cup was won only by a side good enough to come out victorious.

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This was, in recent times, Pakistan's most severe test in Sharjah. The Australians make one of the most competent sides in one-day cricket. They are not pushovers who don't have the strength of mind to play in such an alien setting. The Pakistanis proved good enough to beat the Aussies on that Friday. That is the simple truth.

Imran is right when he says, "We're so used to bowling here we know what to do." The flat conditions were right up the Pakistanis' alley because they have this art of moving the ball in the air. The Aussie seamers depend on moving the ball off the pitch. This was the basic difference between the two sides which were otherwise superbly matched in every department of the game.

There was no doubt in the minds of impartial observers that the Pakistanis would have the edge. The Australians are good but certainly not invincible in the given conditions. The 'home' team advantage was bound to tell. Above all, it was skill, as applied at the right time, that mattered.

Match winner: There were bursts of cricketing power which helped Pakistan take home the trophy. The first came from Wasim Akram just when it seemed the contest was wide open. There was a real chance for the Aussies to contain Pakistan to a reasonable score despite the obvious brilliance of Salim Malik.

Akram squashed that with a blaze of hitting that was typically well-timed by a cricketer who is a match winner. Just consider the number of times Akram has come off in a crunch situation and you will realise the difference between a side that wins often like Pakistan and a side that loses, often like India.

Match winners are those who turn matches with their own contribution. Support is almost incidental to the way they play.

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The Aussies are cool chasers. They were up against 266 rather than 20 to 30 runs less which may have been quite manageable. They were bound to find getting those runs tough against a side that knows its onions when it comes to bowling. They started well.

They built a challenge in the manner of the good side that they are. That they were to fall behind was the creation of a pace bowler.

Liquid pace: Waqar Younis does not believe in conserving himself. He is quick. At his pace he moves the ball in the air. He gets a lot more deviation off the pitch too, because of the movement in the air. He created an impression in his first appearance in Sharjah last year. He was quick then but he had not yet learnt the art of moving the ball around.

Imran began working on Waqar. He changed his action and taught him the standard tricks of moving the ball. And once he recovered from back trouble he got back the basic commodity that makes him the awe-inspiring bowler that he is -- pace. With that pace he made batsmen hurry even on such slow wickets.

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Waqar made a vital contribution in choking off the chase which Boon had begun so actively. It was through a run out that Pakistan gained the break. Waqar made that a double by bowling Dean Jones. And when you get Jones out it is the equivalent of getting half the Australian top order out in one-day cricket.

Border got a terrible decision and though he did demonstrate what he thought of the umpire he refused to accept his doubtful dismissal as a reason for Australia falling short of the target. Since Marsh was unavailable and Australia had gone a batsman short into the final, the target always looked that much bigger.

Akram may have decided that his allround talent was not there to be hidden merely because of a few fitness problems like a groin injury and the surgery that he had to undergo after the tour of Australia. Akram is not the Imran Khan or Waqar Younis type of fast bowler who depends solely on rhythm to work up pace. He bowls as well off a short run-up. In fact, he does so dangerously cleverly.

There is no bowler in world cricket today who can do better than Akram in the slog overs. Once in ten matches he may get slogged but on the other nine occasions he is bound to play a vital role in containing the damage or taking wickets to confirm the victory that may have been sighted earlier.

The quick fall: Akram's hat-trick made it a wholesome treat for the several thousands who had screamed their guts out all day in support of their national side. Those dipping yorkers of his were not only pacy but also on target each time. The stumps of three Australian tailenders were rearranged in a hurry. What a grandstand finish Akram provided!

The stadium was ready to erupt even as Akram bowled Hughes. All hell was breaking loose as Rackemann's stump was sent keeling over. Alderman has no pretensions to batting ability. The three pace bowlers had emulated the West Indians, Dujon, Marshall and Ambrose. It would take considerable time for any bowler to come up with two hat-tricks in limited-overs cricket.

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Akram is expected to be a match winner these days. What made Pakistan's win easier was the fact that a youngster came forward at the most crucial time to lend support to Akram. Mushtaq Ahmed, the chunky leggie, batted capably to ensure his side made the most of the end overs.

Mushtaq was entrusted with the ball at an equally crucial moment in the evening. There was no knowing what damage Simon O'Donnell could cause. Just a couple of days earlier he had played that astonishingly fast and powerful half-century. The youngster bowled gutsily. He got wickets to justify Imran's gamble. He got Waugh and O'Donnell on the slogging hits that did not clear the ground. It was a triumph for spin.

It is no idle boast of Imran that Pakistan has the finest talent in the cricketing world. If cricketers like Waqar and Mushtaq, who were in the Under-19 squad only a couple of years ago, begin winning international matches it only goes to show how good they are and how fortunate Pakistan is with regard to talent.

The Aussies have a seasoned version of the type of talent that Pakistan has at its command. They are a consistent side. But on the day that counted most in the Australasia Cup they did not have the brilliance to win. But they were competitive opponents in a good cricket match.

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