Akram dazzles at the Diamond Oval

Wasim Akram, who bagged five wickets, traps Melt van Schoor leg before.-— Pic. REUTERS

THE Pakistani bowling was always going to prove too hot to handle for the Namibians.

THE Pakistani bowling was always going to prove too hot to handle for the Namibians. The big question from this Group `A' match was whether the Pakistan batsmen would use the opportunity to run into form, following the pounding they received at the hands of Australia.

Not that the Pakistani bowling was seen in good light against the Aussies. The much-vaunted attack was ripped open by Andrew Symonds, after the pacemen had made the early inroads. However, Wasim Akram & Co. still remained extremely dangerous potentially. On the other hand, there were always doubters about the Pakistani batting line-up.

"We are not taking the Namibians lightly and will try to rectify some of the weaker links before our important game against England,'' said captain Waqar Younis, whose team came under much criticism for letting slip a winning opportunity against Australia.

Underdog Namibia had nothing to lose really, the World Cup being a learning experience for this side of amateurs. "Realistically speaking, the Pakistanis are under pressure because no one expects us to win against a side full of legends like Wasim, Waqar, and Shoaib,'' Namibian captain Deon Kotze said.

The Pakistani side was also strengthened for the game with experienced opener Saeed Anwar recovering from an elbow injury and the team-management finally deciding to include match-winning off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq after so foolishly leaving him out against the Aussies.

In the end, the Pakistanis won by a huge 171-run margin, bundling out the minnows for 84 in just 17.4 overs. However, the fact that the Asian giant could make only 255 for nine in 50 overs indicated that the batting was in far from a healthy state.

The pacemen fired on all cylinders though. And for the 36-year-old Wasim Akram, the game marked his 34th World Cup appearance, the most by any player in the premier one-day competition. In the process, Akram had gone past two equally illustrious names, former team-mate Javed Miandad, and Australia's Steve Waugh, who have 33 World Cup caps each.

The wily bowler made the occasion one to remember too, running through the Namibian middle and lower order to finish with five for 28 off nine probing overs. He also went past the 50-wicket mark in World Cups, the first bowler to do so. "At my age, a game is a game, and all I care about is that I get wickets and that our team wins.'' The left-arm wizard brought all his variations into play, that proved too much for the inexperienced Namibian line-up, which had already been jolted when the fiery Shoaib Akhtar made the early inroads, recording impressive speeds that included a delivery sent down at a mind-boggling 159.1 kmph, the fastest ball in World Cup history.

Akhtar brushed aside the Zimbabwean top-order, picking up four of the first five wickets, ending up with four for 46 off eight hostile overs. Namibia, reduced to 17 for five at one stage, managed to reach 84, thanks mainly to Bjorn Kotze's 24, the top score. "Being the fastest is no longer that important to me. Being fast doesn't make you good. I want to take wickets,'' thundered Shoaib later, revealing a new-found maturity.

In the morning, Waqar won the toss, elected to bat, but the Pakistani batsmen failed to get going. Openers Anwar and Salim Elahi added 47 for the first wicket. But after the former fell to Bjorn Kotze for 23, the side lost momentum.

Younis Khan, at No. 3, failed to consolidate on a start, while the much lighter Inzamam-ul-Haq, made just four, before he was bowled by captain Deon Kotze, who with his right length and an off-stump line, was the pick of the Namibian bowlers.

Elahi made a responsible 63 (110b, 5x4), an innings that consumed nearly 140 minutes. The dependable Yousuf Youhana played some lovely cover drives in his 55-ball 43 (three fours), senior wicket-keeper batsman Rashid Latif rattled up 36 (four fours) off just 30 deliveries, and "The Man of the Day" Wasim Akram swung his bat lustily for a 14-ball unbeaten 20, helping Pakistan past the 250-run mark. This still was a below par performance on a good Diamond Oval surface.

The match, rather expectedly, turned out to be a one-sided, but Deon Kotze did have a point when he said, "Cricket cannot grow globally, if countries like us aren't allowed to play and grow into the game.'' It's hard to disagree with what he said.

The scores:

Pakistan: Saeed Anwar c Louis Burger b Bjorn Kotze 23; Salim Elahi c Deon Kotze b Jan-Berry Burger 63; Younis Khan c Van Schoor b Louis Burger 28; Inzamam-ul-Haq b Deon Kotze 4; Yousuf Youhana c Louis Burger b Bjorn Kotze 43; Rashid Latif b Snyman 36; Wasim Akram (not out) 20; Abdur Razzaq c Van Schoor b Snyman 4; Waqar Younis (run out) 8; Saqlain Mushtaq (run out) 1; Shoaib Akhtar (not out) 3; Extras (lb-11, w-10, nb-1) 22; Total (for nine wickets) 255.

Fall of wickets: 1-47, 2-105, 3-118, 4-150, 5-208, 6-223, 7-227, 8-247, 9-248.

Namibia bowling: Gerrie Snyman 8-0-51-2, Rudi van Vuuren 10-1-47-0, Bjorn Kotze 10-1-51-2, Louis Burger 10-0-45-1, Deon Kotze 8-0-32-1, Jan-Berry Burger 4-0-18-1.

Namibia: Riaan Walters c Latif b Wasim 0; Stephan Swanepoel c Inzamam b Shoaib 1; Jan-Berry Burger c Younis Khan b Shoaib 14; Danie Keulder b Shoaib 0; Gavin Murgatroyd lbw b Wasim 4; Louis Burger lbw b Wasim 0; Deon Kotze lbw b Wasim 8; Gerrie Snyman lbw b Shoaib 0; Melt Van Schoor lbw b Wasim 2; Bjorn Kotze (not out) 24; Rudi van Vuuren c Waqar b Saqlain 14; Extras (lb-9, nb-4, w-4) 17; Total (in 17.4 overs) 84.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-3, 3-3, 4-17, 5-17, 6-32, 7-32, 8-35, 9-42.

Pakistan bowling: Wasim Akram 9-1-28-5, Shoaib Akhtar 8-1-46-4, Saqlain Mushtaq 0.4-0-1-1.