On this day: Saqlain Mushtaq claims second ODI hat-trick

Saqlain Mushtaq chose the 1999 World Cup for the feat and became the second bowler after compatriot Wasim Akram to take two hat-tricks in ODIs.

Saqlain Mushtaq in action during a World Cup match in 1999 at Manchester.   -  N. Sridharan

Pakistan was in danger of being knocked out. It was an embarrassing, nay awkward situation, for only the week before, Wasim Akram's team was counted on by its supporters to win the World Cup for the second time in seven years.

So after three consecutive defeats - from the last match of the preliminary stage to the second of the Super Six - Pakistan faced a crisis situation. But Pakistan is a good side and it thrashed Zimbabwe by 148 runs and in the process eliminated India from the competition. The reward for the day's toil was two points and a passage into the semifinal.

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Akram could not have imagined a worse scenario than seeing his team being eliminated before the semifinal. His team had been on a roll for five months after rebounding from the home series defeat against Zimbabwe. And had Pakistan lost at the Oval, Akram might have surely preferred to spend the next three months at his Manchester home than take a flight to Lahore. But thankfully, the crucial match went Pakistan's way. It won in style with off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, joining captain Wasim Akram, by taking his second hat-trick. The nine, ten, jack fell in a 1-2-3 fashion.

After Pakistan's convincing win Akram said, "I knew the team would bounce back. They had a bad week. I would request our supporters to have faith in us. We need their backing when we are not doing well. We don't need it as much, when we are winning. We got to a good start and Saeed Anwar played a quality innings. What we now need is a big innings from Ijaz Ahmed. Saqlain is the No.l off-spinner in the world and did well after two poor matches."

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Saeed Anwar's average had dipped to under 40 after a poor run in the first seven matches of the Cup. The left-hander got into the act methodically with a dash of aggression. From the time he marked his block, Anwar was bent upon making the best use of his captain's decision to bat first. There were times when he dangled his bat and was beaten by Mpumelelo Mbangwa's deliveries that moved off the seam. The residual moisture, as a result of the pitch being covered, gave some encouragement to Mbangwa who was recalled to play his fourth match because of Neil Johnson's dodgy knee.

Heath Streak became the first Zimbabwe fast bowler to complete 100 wickets in one-day internationals, when he took the wickets of Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzaq. And had Streak not over-stepped the popping crease, he might have achieved a hat-trick too. Umpire Dave Orchard of South Africa would have otherwise handed out a Ibw decision in favour of the bowler and against the Pakistan batsman, Saqlain Mushtaq.

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With Johnson forced to rest his knee, Zimbabwe lacked the teeth to cut into the Pakistan ranks in the first hour. With the exception of Mbangwa, no other Zimbabwe bowler seemed good enough to trouble the Pakistan openers. Anwar, enjoying a dropped catch by Alistair Campbell at first slip (off Mbangwa) when he was on 20, went on to make his 16th century in 178 one-day internationals. It was also his first in 13 World Cup matches. Anwar (103, 144b, 11 x 4s) and Wajahatullah Wasti raised 95 for the first wicket. This was a day when a lack of top class fast bowler in the Zimbabwe side, helped Pakistan make a productive and emphatic start.

Zimbabwe came back strongly and after the dismissal of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Anwar and Inzamam added 67 for the third wicket. Then Pakistan quickly lost six wickets for 48 runs. First, Inzamam was stumped in a manner that actually conveyed he had no knowledge of the laws of the game. He stepped out to take a swipe at leg spinner Paul Strang, saw Andrew Flower fumble, and yet did not try to get back to his ground. The ball bounced off Flower's gloves on to the stumps. To make sure, Flower grabbed the middle stump, although the law makes it clear that the batsman is out even if the ball rebounds off his gloves on to the stumps.

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Moin Khan, the dangerman, was on the verge of exploding. But Grant Flower's direct hit caught him short of the crease. Pakistan still managed to make 69 runs in the last ten overs, thanks to Shahid Afridi's 29-ball 37 with two sixes and one four. In fact,Pakistan made 35 runs in the last five overs after losing three wickets in the space of 12 balls, bowled by Strang and Streak. Campbell's choice of two leg spinners was a bit surprising. Strang and Adam Huckle gave away 81 runs in 17 overs and took a wicket each.

After putting oh board a high total of 2 71, Pakistan was always likely to win. Grant Flower fell to the pace and length of a Shoaib Akhtar delivery. The rest, apart from Johnson, had no motivation to carry on. Razzaq, broke the Zimbabwe backbone taking the wickets of Murray Goodwin, Andrew Flower and Campbell. Then came the final act that saw Saqlain achieve a hat-trick.

The off spinner came to England with 187 LOI wickets and before the match against Zimbabwe, he had an exact 200 in the bag. His 13 wickets in seven previous Cup matches had come at a slightly more expensive 23.53 in comparison to 19.42 before the competition. His first hat-trick was against Zimbabwe at Peshawar two seasons ago. At the Oval he repeated it with help from Moin Khan at the wicket.

Johnson's half century (54, 94 balls, 5 x 4s) was the only bright spot. Guy Whittall made 16 and Streak remained undefeated on 16. The others made single digit scores. It was a day when Zimbabwe was swamped, Campbell said after the defeat, "Zimbabwe was out-played."

This article was first published in the Sportstar issue dated June 26, 1999.

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