When Shoaib Akhtar clocked over 100 miles per hour

The approaching storm…Shoaib Akhtar running into to bowl his thunderbolts © Getty Images

On April 27, 2002, Shoaib Akhtar became the first man in the history of international cricket to cross the 100-mile barrier, but the International Cricket Council refused to recognise the feat, stating it wasn’t picked off a standard measuring tool. Karthik Parimal takes a trip down memory lane to see what the decision meant to Shoaib and how he repeated the insanity an year later.

“Fast bowling is about imposing yourself on the batsman,” said Waqar Younis a few months ago. The authenticity of this statement needs no verification, for its source is one who was trained to bowl at tearaway speeds during the initial stages of his career, and mastered it in due course of time. It was a trait Waqar passed to many in the Pakistani line-up, and the examples of it are well-documented. During latter stages, when he was assigned the task of leading the side, Waqar played a more sedate, yet effective, role with ball, leaving the likes of Shoaib Akhtar to ‘impose’ themselves on the batsmen with sheer pace.

A decade ago, Shoaib and Brett Lee were the only two speedsters who were touted to break the 100 mph barrier; or at least to hover around the speed with which West Indies and the English pacers of the 1970s and ’80s consistently bowled at. Yet, the previous fastest delivery that was recorded, albeit not during an international or a domestic fixture, was that of Jeff Thomson’s — 99.8 mph in 1976. In his book, The Art of Fast Bowling, Dennis Lillee states that, in 1975, Thomson bowled at 160.45 kph, which amounts to 99.7 mph. However, “very accurate high speed cameras” and a close study of the best fast bowlers in the world — Lillee, Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel, Bob Willis, John Snow and Andy Roberts, to name a few — had revealed that none ever recorded a speed of 100 mph or over.

The day that frontier was conquered

In the April of 2002, in the bustling city of Lahore, New Zealand met Pakistan for the third and final One-Day International (ODI) — although it was inconsequential, for the hosts had already lapped up the first two matches — of the abridged series. Having elected to bat, Pakistan scored 278 in their 50 overs, thereby setting a formidable total for the Kiwis to chase (this was before Twenty20 had become rampant). The new-ball bowlers were Waqar and Shoaib, and while the former was meticulously working away at the openers, the latter was wayward but, without a shadow of doubt, quick. Any delivery directed at the body had the batsman hopping at the crease like a cat on a hot tin roof.

He seldom took his foot off the gas pedal on that eventful day, consistently clocking a little over 99 mph. One such delivery to No.3 batsman Craig McMillan was recorded at 99.3 mph (159 kph).  Another ball, as indicated by the speed gun provided by one of the sponsors, was clocked at 100.04 mph (161 kph). This caused great joy for many associated with Pakistan cricket, since one of their own lads was the first to break into uncharted territory.

Khalid Butt, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s Media Manager, released the following statement post the game that saw Pakistan win by 66 runs: “According to the speed gun operated in the ground by a sponsor, Shoaib Akhtar bowled a delivery at a speed of 161kph during the third ODI between Pakistan and New Zealand at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore.”

Or was it?

Nevertheless, the International Cricket Council (ICC) refused to recognise this feat, for they didn’t have a standard measuring tool. Clarifying that they never kept any official records about bowling speeds, then ICC spokesman David Clarke clearly stated that ‘it’s not an officially recognised record.’

Questions were raised with regards to the accuracy of the recorder too. The case of a malfunction wasn’t ruled out either. This prompted CyberNet, the sponsor of the speed gun for that series, to release a media statement that read as follows: “The Speed Radar Gun was used in all the three One-Day Internationals played in Pakistan. The accuracy of the Speed Radar Gun is authentic and reliable as it can be tested with an internationally used speed checking device. We have no interests of claiming any ‘World Records’ or any ‘Official records’ and are acting in the best interest of the game of cricket. On the third One-Day International at Lahore our Speed Radar Gun showed Shoaib Akhtar’s delivery at 161kph in his second over.”

One year later, it’s official

Despite the hullabaloo that followed, the verdict from the head honchos wasn’t ruled in Shoaib’s favour. Nonetheless, one year later, during the 2003 World Cup, on February 22 against England at Cape Town, he bowled at 161.3 kph (100.23 mph) and, ostensibly, signalled to the powers that be that he had now done it twice. “The media has highlighted my ‘exploits’ both on and off the field, ensuring that my personal life was well documented, even if not always accurately. But I was the first to cross the 100-mile barrier, twice, and am still the fastest bowler in the world, having set an official world record by achieving the fastest delivery ever, clocking in at 161.3 kmph (100.2 mph),” recalls Shoaib in his autobiography Controversially Yours.

A few bowlers — notably Shaun Tait, Brett Lee and Mohammad Sami — have clocked speeds over 160 kph, but, like was Akhtar’s first case, they hadn’t been picked off a standard measuring tool.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal )