A phenomenal achievement

Wasim Akram has crossed the 500-wicket mark in one-day internationals. It's a reward for hard work. The left-arm seamer's hour of celebration came on a hot and humid day at the Boland Park, Paarl, in the Western Cape of South Africa, where the game is patronised by wine merchants.

G. VISWANATH

Wasim Akram has crossed the 500-wicket mark in one-day internationals. It's a reward for hard work. The left-arm seamer's hour of celebration came on a hot and humid day at the Boland Park, Paarl, in the Western Cape of South Africa, where the game is patronised by wine merchants.

Akram exploded in joy after taking the wicket of Nick Statham, the opening batsman of Holland, who nicked the ball onto his stumps. Akram danced his way into the arms of wicketkeeper Rashid Latif. The rest of the team-members also surrounded him to celebrate his greatest moment. The crowd, many of whom were Dutch, stood and applauded.

Akram was a relieved man after achieving the target. He made history off his seventh ball in this World Cup league phase match. He took two more wickets to take his tally to 11 wickets in four matches.

Earlier, his five-wicket haul against Namibia took him close to the mark. The 36-year-old veteran said he felt like a schoolboy and had a disturbed sleep thinking about the 500th wicket. The Namibians had pushed him closer to the mark, but he found the England batsmen bold and resolute.

Michael Vaughan could have been his 500th wicket, when he top-edged a hook into the hands of Saqlain Mushtaq. But the paceman was no-balled by Brian Jerling. Akram has always kept the statisticians busy and the media and historians interested.

He always appeared fresh and, introduced an element of novelty in his bowling. He has many tricks up his sleeve. He became Pakistan's spearhead after the exit of Imran Khan Niazi, his mentor. He did mention Imran and Javed Miandad's contribution towards his growth. He resembled the famous Australian Alan Davidson, whose first class career spanned 14 years between 1949 and 1963.

Akram was born in Lahore on June 5, 1966 and made his debut in the mid-80s. After the Second World War, only two left-arm seamers have dominated the game. Davidson played in 44 Tests, Akram (up to the match against Holland) has been capped 354 times in one-day internationals and in 104 Tests. He has taken 502 and 414 wickets in one-dayers and Test respectively.

Akram began playing for Pakistan in an encouraging environment. He was fortunate to have the support of Imran Khan and Miandad. Then Akram was a young man of slight build, who was learning the trade at Khan Mohammad's clinic. He was enjoying his game in club tournaments in Lahore, displaying his skills. He caught the attention of the two strong men of Pakistan cricket then.

As David Gower said during the India-England match, the moving ball always poses a question or two in the batsman's mind. Well, Akram demonstrated this skill, aplenty. Even at 18, he was able to swing, cut and seam off the pitch.

He has the knack of bringing the ball back, bowling over the wicket. He showed variety, when bowling round the wicket. He will surprise the batsmen with short balls and bouncers, all with a pronounced arm and wrist action.

It did not take a long time for him to become a complete bowler. He mastered the art of reverse swing. As he developed, he began using the crease well, bowling from wide of the crease and changing the angles.

Eighteen years has been a long time for a paceman, and Akram's bowling powers have not diminished. Speed is not his forte now though. He relies on subtle change of pace and use of the seam.

He did not get a wicket in his first three one-day internationals. In fact he did not bowl in his second match against New Zealand at the Eden Park, Auckland. But in his fourth match, he took five wickets for 21 against Australia. Thereafter, it has been an Akram show all the way.

West Indians Desmond Haynes and Carl Hooper are some of his prized victims. He has dismissed the Bajan 12 times and Hooper on 10 occasions. Roshan Mahanama, Arvinda de Silva, Mohammed Azharuddin, Brian Lara, Sanath Jayasuriya and Dean Jones were his victims many times.

It has been a chequered career for this great bowler. It was alleged that he had links with bookmakers and it was ordered by a Pakistani judge that he should never be made the captain. He won the 1992 World Cup in Australia and is now personally having a roaring time in the fifth World Cup in South Africa.