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Wasim dreams of one final goodbye
Tony Lawrence | February 26, 2003 11:46 IST
"Sachin Tendulkar, bowled Wasim Akram, 0" would have read better, of course.
But, when you are 36 and slowing, and already looking to life beyond cricket, best not be too particular.
Statham, at least, is a good cricketing name.
Wasim Akram might have dismissed Klaas Jan van Noortwijk in Tuesday's World Cup Group A match against the Netherlands in Paarl for his history-making 500th one-day international wicket.
Nick Statham will sit better in the record books, even if he is not quite Sachin.
Wasim's delight over the wicket, however -- he later said the emotion was more relief than ecstasy -- was unconditional. He ran past the departing Statham and picked up wicketkeeper Rashid Latif in a bear hug before being surrounded by the rest of his Pakistan team mates.
Everyone has his own Wasim.
In Lahore and in Pakistan's Punjab, he is a demi-god, his feats and statistics -- currently 414 Test wickets at 23.62 and 502 one-day victims at 23.43 -- recited to young children as bed-time stories.
In England's Lancashire, where he spent a cricketing decade, he is an adopted son.
There are others, however, Justice Malik Qayyum among them, who have a more jaundiced view.
Qayyum's report into match-fixing three years ago, commissioned by the Pakistan Cricket Board in the wake of Hansie Cronje's disgrace and fall in South Africa, led to two players being banned for life.
Wasim was one of another six players censured and fined for not fully co-operating with the investigation. The judge also recommended that Wasim never captain Pakistan again.
Nobody will ever know whether Wasim took or did not take bookmakers' money to manipulate matches.
Nobody will ever prove whether Pakistan's defeat at the hands of Bangladesh in a dead-rubber game during the 1999 World Cup -- Wasim was captain at the time -- was influenced by mere complacency or hard cash.
Everyone has their own verdict.
Whatever Wasim does, some mud will always stick. He conceded as much himself on Tuesday.
"It's been a roller-coaster journey with lots of ups and downs but it was worth it," he said. "Whatever controversies I have gone through on and off the field -- it was worth it."
And perhaps it was.
Which cricket fan, after all, will forget Wasim Akram in his pomp in the early 1990s, long-haired, film-starred, keen-eyed and quick-stepping up to the wicket before unleashing the quickest left arm cricket has ever seen?
Invariably, the ball would start towards the slips before, later than ever seemed possible, arcing back through the air and into the batsman's pads. Invariably an appeal would follow and, time after time after time, the umpire's finger would go up.
Wasim and fellow quick bowler Waqar Younis were way ahead of their time, reverse-swinging the old ball with such disconcerting, devastating effect that their English opponents in 1992 put it all down to bottle tops and Asian sorcery.
It took them more than a few years to accept that a small element of skill might just have been involved.
That year, 1992, will be remembered as the year of Imran Khan's 'cornered tigers', his Pakistan team coming back from near-certain elimination to lift the World Cup.
Imran, another beautifully fluid quick bowler, was Wasim's mentor and was repaid that Melbourne day in full, Wasim's man-of-the-match performance including the big-name wickets of Ian Botham, Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis first ball.
There were also 33 sweetly-struck tail-end runs from 21 balls.
Wasim could, and perhaps should, have developed into a genuine all-rounder -- his top Test score was 257 not out against Zimbabwe in 1996-97 -- but somehow, perhaps through lack of opportunity or commitment, he ended his 104-match Test career with an average of just 22.64.
For many, however, he will still be venerated as the greatest left-hand talent of them ball bar Gary Sobers.
Wisden, cricket's bible, hailed him as the best one-day bowler to strut the planet, ahead of Allan Donald and Waqar, while placing him 15th in the list of all-time Test greats.
And Wasim was certainly a great.
In his fifth World Cup, he is less quicksilver than before, but he can still bend the ball around a sharp corner and back again.
'Sachin Tendulkar, bowled Wasim Akram, 0' is still very much a possibility. The teams meet in the World Cup on March 1 in Centurion in a match which could decide which team progresses to the second stage. What Wasim would give for a third World Cup final.
When he retires -- and he has already suggested that that day could come soon after South Africa 2003 -- he will be lost for good.
As he says himself, he is not the coaching sort. He has been graced with a talent you cannot teach. To try would only frustrate him.
As a player, Wasim should be enjoyed for the little time he has left. As a man, he remains charming and approachable, and the rest is not for us to know.