World Cup Countdown: Shoaib’s thunderbolts eliminate New Zealand
Too hot too handle: Shoaib Akhtar yorks Stephen Fleming at Old Trafford. © AFP

In the build-up to the 2019 ICC Cricket World CupCricketCountry brings to you the most memorable moments and matches from the tournament over the years – right from its first edition, way back in 1975. With 48 days to go, in our latest World Cup Countdown we rewind to the 1999 World Cup semi-final at Old Trafford.

In 1999, Shoaib Akhtar bowled fast. Very fast.

It was all he knew, and all he wanted to do. On June 16, 1999 Pakistan met New Zealand in the first World Cup semi-final in Manchester and found out, to their detriment, how hostile he could be.

I was 18 at the time, hardly a week graduated from high school in the Himalayas. My father and I had decided a year before to book tickets for the 1999 World Cup semi-finals and final; we were successful in securing tickets for the two semis, without much hassle.

The first thing that struck me as we neared Old Trafford was the number of fans in Pakistan green. There was hardly a Black Caps jersey to be seen. (I did not know at the time of Manchester’s sizeable Pakistan community). Then, as we entered the ground, the beauty of Old Trafford and the noise from the fans were equally overwhelming.

Stephen Fleming won the toss and opted to bat, and soon the Black Caps were in trouble. Shoaib struck the first blow by bowling Nathan Astle for 3 off 18 balls in the sixth over. His first spell of 4-0-19-1 was all pace, with one bouncer flying over Moin Khan’s head for five runs.

Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram, perhaps sensing that Shoaib was expending all his energy upfront, took his strike bowler out of the attack. Wasim himself got Craig McMillan to nick off to Moin for a laborious 3 off 19 deliveries. (World Cup Countdown: Ganguly, Dravid and a Taunton run-fest)

First blood: Shoaib Akhtar bowls Nathan Astle for 3 off 18 balls. © Getty

A revival was started by Matt Horne and Fleming, until the former was bowled by Abdul Razzaq for 38 off 48 balls. Fleming and Roger Twose – hero of New Zealand’s last match – appeared at ease against Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood and Shahid Afridi and took the score to 130/3 after 31 overs.

Then Wasim summoned Shoaib.

Twose was beaten for pace when he missed a pull shot, and then saw a ripper deviate past the edge of his bat. It needed Moin to fling his gloves up in front of his bat to save himself from being struck in the face. Shoaib was just warming up, however. (World Cup Countdown: Lance Klusener deflates Sri Lanka)

Fleming faced up to the fast bowlers’s second over of that spell. The first was tapped to point, the second cut past the same fielder for four. Fleming guided the next ball to third man where Inzamam-ul-Haq allowed to pass through his legs for four more. In the stands, a sea of green fans let out a collective sigh of frustration.

Shoaib, hands on hips, fumed. You could feel the tension; the Pakistan fans were acting as a belligerent 12th man for their heroes, of which Shoaib was the biggest on the day.

Then Saqlain Mushtaq, at mid-on, fumbled to allow Fleming two runs. Shoaib, at this stage, was livid.

He walked back to his mark, shaking his head. The fans – again, the sea of green was overpowering to a teenager sitting between a few Black Caps fans and a group of local Pakistanis behind the long-on boundary – wanted something to happen. (World Cup Countdown: Neil Johnson helps Zimbabwe beat South Africa)

On cue, Shoaib thundered in and bowled the ball of the tournament – literally. A yorker, clocked at 92mph, thundered under Fleming’s bat and took out leg stump.

I will never forget the tumultuous din that erupted. Neither, probably, will all the Pakistan fans at Old Trafford that summer day.

Saeed Anwar’s unbeaten 113 took Pakistan to victory and into the World Cup final. © Getty

That wicket proved New Zealand’s downfall. Wasim took Shoaib off after three overs, giving him figures of 2/36 in seven overs. When he came back for a final burst, Shoaib  bowled Chris Harris with a crafty slow ball. He would ended with 3/55 in his ten overs, which do no justice to the fury and beauty with which he bowled.

An unbeaten 48 not out from Chris Cairns and 47 extras – 17 wides, 12 no-balls, shockingly – helped New Zealand post 241/7 in 50 overs.

That total never challenged Pakistan, who thanks to a second successive hundred from Saeed Anwar (113*) and Wajahatullah Wasti (84) finished the chase in the 48th over.

Their stand of 194 in 40.3 overs was cheered raucously by the Pakistan fans who spilled onto the field with six runs needed, thus causing a ten-minute delay. With 15 balls left, Anwar chipped a ball from Astle over the legside for the winning runs. At long-on, instead of attempting to catch the ball, Twose turned immediately for the pavilion as a throng of Pakistan fans invaded the field.

Brief scores:

Pakistan 242/1 in 47.3 overs (Anwar 113*, Wasti 84) beat New Zealand 241/7 in 50 overs (Twose 46, Cairns 44*, Fleming 41, Shoaib 3/55) by nine wickets.

Man of the Match: Shoaib Akhtar