Wasim Akram
Wasim Akram scalped 502 wickets in ODIs Getty Images

My first memory of watching a cricket match goes back to the Wills World Cup 1996, when I truly and deeply fell in love with the game. It was the quarter-final between India and Pakistan. All my family members and some known faces from the neighbourhood had gathered at home when I returned back from school. At first, I did not realise the reason behind the gathering; but once everyone started cheering when Sachin Tendulkar and Navjot Singh Sidhu plundered boundaries, I learnt the actual reason.

Though I had been playing street cricket, this was a different feeling; something I had never experienced before. For the first time ever, I saw quite a few cricket pundits sitting at my place and discussing the game. And, that is precisely when I heard this name for the first time Wasim Akram. He was not a part of Pakistan’s playing XI, as he had pulled out of it minutes before its commencement. He was their key player, their leader, and hence it was natural of me to get curious as to why was he not playing? My anxiety to watch him play only grew as people around me kept using adjectives like Jaadugar (magician) and Kalakaar (artist) to define him.

The next thing I remember was going all out convincing my dad to get a cable connection at home, for that was the only way I could have satiated my innate thirst for more cricketing action, and of course, watch the likes of Tendulkar and Akram play. The DTH service was light years away then, as a local cable operator from the neighbourhood used to provide the service. I remember being very good even to him, thinking he might get the job done for me. But all my efforts went in vain, as in the meantime, the vacations got over and the cable connection went on the back burner.

I missed the next few major cricket assignments such as the Sahara Cup and the Sharjah cup; but when Pakistan toured Down Under in December-January (the months were marked by my fortnight-long winter vacations), I finally had my way. After days of campaigning, I got the cable connection installed at home and enjoyed the Carlton and United triangular series between hosts Australia, West Indies and Akram s Pakistan (yes, that is how remembered the team). And then, the day came when for the first time, I saw him bowl live. It was a group match against Australia and since it started early in the morning, I remember getting up at 8 am, which was early by my standards in vacations. But then, I had to fight my demons; after all, Akram was going to play.

My wait just got longer when I learnt Pakistan would bat first. The playing XI looked a bit new to me, as Aamir Sohail, Ijaz Ahmed and Inzamam-ul-Haq were the only survivors from the World Cup quarter-final against India; the only Pakistan game I had seen till that day. But I was happy to find Akram s name in the playing XI displayed on the television screen. Pakistan had a terrible start, losing their top three batsmen for ducks. Things kept getting worse for them as the match progressed. They were bundled out for 149, and I could not have been happier, as it only meant I would get to see Akram bowl.

Honestly I never thought Pakistan could defend this modest total, even if Akram s heard-of skills were taken into account. Moreover, except for Akram, Pakistan were without their first-choice bowling attack. Else, how often do you see Ijaz bowl a 10-over spell? So, I was prepared for a Pakistan loss but wanted to see Akram excel. He did, and wonderfully too, as he led an inexperienced attack to a miraculous win over the hosts. True to his reputation, he did bowl a magical spell (8-2-13-3) and let the ball do the talking. His scalps too were no lesser mortals, as he removed the likes of Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Michael Bevan. I had seen these men do wonders in the World Cup, and rated them very highly. But at the end of the match, I was a happy guy, for now I too had things to contribute in an Akram discussion .

I expected him to get the Player of the Match award, but it went to the young Mohammad Wasim for his gritty half-century. Akram delivered a couple of more such spells in the series (4 for 35 against Australia as well as series-winning 3 for 17 against West Indies in the second final). From there on, I watched him play tirelessly for another few years. I saw him taking Test hat-tricks and complete 500 ODI wickets. But to me, the favourite Wasim Akram memory that will forever stand apart is my first memory of watching him bowl.