Shoaib Akhtar hurtling down his unusually long run-up © AFP
On May 3, 2002, a freight train that went by the name of the Rawalpindi Express ran amok at the Gaddafi Stadium and crushed six hapless New Zealanders. Jaideep Vaidya revisits the carnage.
Ever since he stepped onto the scene in 1999 as a young, tall and exceptionally fast pace bowler, Shoaib Akhtar hurtling down his unusually long run-up, gathering speed with every stride before bombarding the batsman with what appeared like red or white blurs, was one of the most remarkable — or terrifying, depending on which way you see it — sights in world cricket.
When New Zealand toured Pakistan for a short series in 2002, it wasn’t as if they hadn’t faced Akhtar before. In Pakistan’s tour of Kiwiland the preceding year, Akhtar had helped crush Stephen Fleming‘s men in a One-Day International (ODI) with figures of five for 19. Cut back to the present tour, in the ODI series that preceded the Tests, New Zealand had just helped Akhtar record his best-ever figures of six for 16. Evidently, they had no clue whatsoever of how to counter him, his rib crackers and his toe crushers.
In the first Test at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore, Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat first on a batting paradise and a triple century from Inzamam-ul-Haq helped them pile on 643 in the first innings. There was no way the hosts were going to lose the match and the best the Kiwis could hope for was a draw, if they batted well. However, the Rawalpindi Express was having nothing of it.
The pitch may not have been conducive to fast bowling, but then that was only if you planned to pitch the ball on the surface. Akhtar was aiming for the batsmen’s feet, and he probably wanted to break a hole through them. First to go was opener Matt Horne, whose reflexes were far too slow for Akhtar’s inswinging yorker that crashed into his stumps. Mark Richardson and Lou Vincent hung around for about five overs before another yorker from Akhtar castled the left-handed opener. New Zealand skipper Fleming was to go in an action replay the same over to make it 19 for three; the TV broadcaster’s speed gun revealed that ball clocking 157kmph.
Chris Harris gave Akhtar his third wicket in 10 balls after an attempted drive was hours late to hit another scorching yorker at 154 kmph. The only difference this time was that it was the off-stump that was uprooted, and not middle. To the Kiwis’ schadenfreude, Akhtar limped off with a sprained ankle after losing his balance in his follow-through and did not bowl again that day. But that was not before he had caused enough damage to their furniture for the day, having claimed four for four in 25 balls, as New Zealand ended Day Two at 58 for six.
The next morning, Akhtar did not take the field at start of playas the Kiwi lower order heaved a sigh of relief. But it made no difference as Saqlain Mushtaq got Daniel Vettori to get a top-edge that flew straight to mid-on, before WaqarYounis trapped Robbie Hart leg-before to make it 67 for eight. And to the horror of the Kiwi numbersnine and 10, Brooke Walker and Daryl Tuffey, Akhtar limped back onto the field, presumably to get his five-for.
Akhtar needed only eight deliveries to polish off the visitors for a paltry 73, giving Pakistan a humongous lead of 570. Akhtar finished with career-best figures of six for 11 in just 8.2 overs, besting his previous tally of five for 24 recorded a couple of months ago against the West Indies at Sharjah. As Wisden reported, it took his tally for the season to 23 wickets in five Tests at an average of 16.65 and a strike rate of 30.
Brutal, is the apt word.
Needless to say, Pakistan went on to win the Test by a huge margin — an innings and 324 runs, which was the fifth-highest win margin in Test history. You can bet your horses it would have been bigger had Akhtar bowled in the second innings.
Pakistan 643 (Inzamam-ul-Haq 329, Imran Nazir 127; Craig McMillan 3 for 48) beat New Zealand 73 (Lou Vincent 21; Shoaib Akhtar 6 for 11) and 246 (Stephen Fleming 66, Lou Vincent 57; Danish Kaneria 5 for 110) by an innings and 324 runs.
(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber )