There are few sights as breathtaking in cricket as a rampant Shoaib Akhtar © Getty Images
There are few sights as breathtaking in cricket as a rampant Shoaib Akhtar © Getty Images

February 22, 2003. The match between England and Pakistan at Newlands could well have been just another World Cup encounter with a one-sided outcome, unless Shoaib Akhtar did not choose the match to create history.  Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the day when the 100-mph barrier was broken.

Till the late 1990s, speedometers were considered unreliable; while the world discussed whether Ernie Jones was faster than Harold Larwood, nobody could provide the answers. In The Fast Men David Frith mentioned that Larwood was clocked at 96 mph (154.5 kph), though speed guns of the 1930s were not very reliable.

In The Art of Fast Bowling, Dennis Lillee wrote about a speed contest at WACA in December 1975. Jeff Thomson clocked as high as 99.7 mph (160.4 kmph) twice, while Andy Roberts bowled at 99.1 mph (159.5 kmph). The same test was conducted a year later, and Thomson bowled at 99.8 mph (160.6 kph). The 100-mph barrier remained elusive.

Then came Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee, who suddenly made the milestone look possible. Lee was even clocked at 100.5 mph (161.8 kph) against West Indies in 2001-02, but Channel 9 later admitted that it was “almost certainly a mistake”; the delivery is not considered when the fastest deliveries are listed. Shoaib Akhtar hit 100 mph in 2002, but once again the speed gun was dismissed as unreliable.

But the hunt continued. Shoaib mentioned a conversation with Thomson in his autobiography:

Thomson: Well, are you going to make a bid for my record?
Shoaib: It’s not a pressing goal but the day I feel good and strong, I will break it.

The ball

Waqar Younis gave Wasim Akram first over after Nasser Hussain opted to bat, and let Shoaib share the new ball. Wasim had Marcus Trescothick caught-behind off the last ball of his second over. Nick Knight played out five dot balls of the next over. Then Shoaib ran in for the sixth. The ball to Nick Knight did not look special: it was slightly short-pitched, and Knight nudged it to leg-side. The giant scoreboard at Newlands showed 100.2 mph (161.3 kmph).

It was not a fluke. Shoaib wrote: “Early in the match, I realized that I had just bowled unusually fast to Nick Knight, who was at the batting crease. So I began to observe my own speed-it was well into the 90s. I began to push myself harder then, and the speed gun — an official one, if you please-started registering speeds ranging from 94 to 97 mph. Then I began to touch 99 mph and I told myself, this is it, you can do it, run in with everything you have — let’s set a record. The moment the thought sprung into my head, I slowed down a bit. At first I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong but then I began to concentrate on my run-in-where I landed, how I took off. I realized that the problem lay in the last few yards. I made a conscious attempt to sustain my speed till the very end, twisted and swung my arm appropriately and released the ball at the speed of 161.3 kmph; I had broken the 100-mph barrier.”

Vaughan, Collingwood consolidate

The rest of the innings passed without much ado. England lost Knight and Hussain early as well, but from 59 for 3, Michael Vaughan and Alec Stewart added 51; once again a double-blow reduced England to 118 for 5, but Paul Collingwood dug in, with Andrew Flintoff for support.

The pair added a quick 42; a few slogs from Craig White and Ashley Giles followed; and Collingwood eventually took England to 246 for 8 with a brilliantly paced 73-ball 66 not out. Despite bowling the fastest ball, Shoaib took maximum flak, conceding 63 off 9 overs with only Vaughan’s wicket to show.

The Anderson show, and Shoaib’s other world record

Shahid Afridi started in characteristic style, hoicking Andy Caddick over long-off for six off the fifth ball he faced. He edged the next to Stewart. Thereafter Anderson took over: moving the ball in the air at reasonable pace, he had Inzamam-ul-Haq caught at third slip; bowled Yousuf Youhana (later Mohammad Yousuf) with a fast yorker; trapped a shuffling Saeed Anwar leg-before; and four balls later, had Rashid Latif caught-behind.

White and Flintoff took out 4 wickets at the other end, and when Shoaib walked out to join Saqlain Mushtaq, the score read a hopeless 80 for 9 after 25.5 overs. With nothing to lose, Shoaib went ballistic, and by the time Flintoff ran through his defence, he had raced to a 16-ball 43 with 5 fours and 3 sixes. It remains the highest score by a No. 11 batsman in ODIs.

Pakistan lost the match by 112 runs.

What followed?

– Later that day Shoaib had a chance to talk to Knight. He asked Knight whether he felt the impact of his deliveries. A hapless Knight responded: “Yes, of course; every ball!”

– When a limited edition of photographs of the ball was released, Knight got one autographed by Shoaib.

– Neither team qualified for the Super Sixes.

– Both Lee and Shaun Tait have clocked 100.1 mph (161.1 kph) subsequently.

Brief scores:

England 246 for 8 in 50 overs (Michael Vaughan 52, Paul Collingwood 66*) beat Pakistan 134 (Shoaib Akhtar 43; James Anderson 4 for 29, Craig White 3 for 33) by 112 runs.

Man of the match: James Anderson.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)