On October 20, 1996, Wasim Akram wrote his name in the record books with an innings of 257 not out against Pakistan in the first Test at Sheikhupura. His effort remains the highest score by a batsman at number eight. Nishad Pai Vaidya revisits that day.
With his unparalleled mastery with the ball, it was quite easy to forget that Wasim Akram was a capable batsman. The Pakistani left-hander would often use the long handle to pick up quick runs and help his side in the process. However, on October 20, 1996, he wrote his name in history courtesy his bat when he smashed 257 not out against Zimbabwe at Sheikhupura. To this day, it remains the highest score at number eight in Test cricket.
The match began on October 17 with Alistair Campbell winning the toss and electing to bat first. Shahid Nazir had reduced Zimbabwe to 142 for six, until Paul Strang (106) combined with Grant Flower (110) to resurrect Zimbabwe. The next day, they were bowled out for 375 with Nazir recording five for 53.
Pakistan’s reply began well with Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar setting the tone. However, wickets kept tumbling and once the well set Saleem Malik (52) was out with the score reading 183 for six, Pakistan were in tatters and in danger of conceding a huge lead to Zimbabwe. In came Wasim Akram with the intention of playing his shots. Along with Moin Khan, he saw off Day Two at 189 for six. The battle was to resume the next day with Akram on five and Moin on three.
On Day Three, Moin and Akram extended Pakistan’s challenge and reached their 50-run stand. Akram had shown his intent by lofting the spinners over their heads. The hitting was clean and crisp. He would just get one stride forward and then loft it with all power. However, at 237, he lost Moin as Paul Strang had him caught by Andy Whittall. Saqlain Mushtaq walked in and he set off on a mission to give his captain some obdurate support.
With Saqlain holding one end, Akram had the license to take his chances. Some of the shots were a bit surprising. He stood at his crease to Brian Strang and merely turned his wrists to loft him over long-on.
Nothing was to stop him that day and he got to his ton in brilliant fashion — hoisting Whittall for a huge six over long-on. The field was brought in, but Akram backed himself and cleared the ground easily. The cap came off and the arms were up in the air to celebrate his second Test ton — the first ton at Adelaide in 1990 against Australia had come in when Pakistan were in a disarray. Pakistan finished Day Three at 395 for seven with Akram in 144 for Saqlain on 37.
Akram attacked everything in the slot. The spinners had absolutely no clue where to pitch it. Powerful shots down the ground cleared the ropes easily. The southpaw nonchalantly swept Strang and Andy Whittall to smother the spin. The visitors looked perplexed. A pounding was on the cards. They meekly surrendered to the mesmerising tunes of Akram.
At the other end, Saqlain was firm and got to his first fifty in Test cricket. In the dressing room, Waqar Younis was padded up for eternity. Akram told BBC, “After every session I went in and he (Waqar) was padded up, sleeping somewhere in the corner, reading or watching TV. He asked, “How long should I be padded up?” I said, just wait!”
Meanwhile Akram’s flurry o f sixes continued on Day Four (October 20) and Pakistan moved past 500. Saqlain and Akram had put on 313 for the eight wicket — which stood as the world record for that wicket in Test cricket until Stuart Broad and Jonathan Trott surpassed it during the fateful Lord’s Test against Pakistan in 2010. Saqlain was ultimately bowled for 79. His was a brave effort as he had batted for 426 minutes and had faced 359 deliveries. Now was Waqar’s chance to bat. From 237 for seven, Pakistan were now in command at 550 for eight.
Akram recalled, “He was outside with his pads and waited for 10 hours. He walked in and was bowled off the first ball. Everybody laughed, including myself. Obviously, I felt really bad inside, but we all were laughing.” Waqar’s woodwork was rearranged by a full delivery from Guy Whittall. Shahid Nazir also did not last long and was caught by Mark Dekker off Andy Whittall. Nevertheless, Wasim had entered the record books with his unbeaten innings of 257.
Akram broke many records on the way. While he still holds the record for the highest score at number eight, he also hit the most sixes in a Test innings — 12 of them. Akram had moved past Wally Hammond’s record of 10 sixes during his innings of 336 not out against New Zealand in the 1930s. He had also hit 22 fours during the innings. Now, Pakistan had a chance to push for victory being 178 ahead and with little over a day to go.
- Pakistan couldn’t push for victory as the Zimbabwe batsmen were stubborn in their resistance and finished the Test on 241 for seven. Pakistan were not helped by the fact that there was bad light on Day Four and they also lost a few overs to rain on the final day.
- Pakistan won the second Test at Faisalabad by 10 wickets to clinch the series. Interestingly, Akram gave himself a promotion and batted at number six in the first innings. He scored 35 with seven boundaries.
Zimbabwe 375 (Grant Flower 110, Paul Strang 106*; Shahid Nazir 5 for 35, Saqlain Mushtaq 3 for 127) and 241 for 7 (Dave Houghton 65; Saqlain Mushtaq 4 for 75) drew with Pakistan 550 (Saeed Anwar 51, Salim Malik 52, Wasim Akram 257*, Saqlain Mushtaq 79; Paul Strang 5 for 212).
Man of the Match: Wasim Akram