World Cup 2007 April 1, 2007

Hail McGrath but remember Wasim

Wasim Akram is the greatest bowler of his generation © Getty Images

Glenn McGrath, the human metronome, took Wasim Akram's record of most wickets in World Cup cricket. Australia have dominated the World Cup since Pakistan beat them at Headingley in 1999 thanks largely to McGrath's brilliance and the record is well deserved.

It says something about Pakistan's World Cup that their only bowler to set a world record in this tournament was Mohammad Yousuf who took a wicket with his only ball.

About the only positive I will take away from this tournament from a Pakistani perspective is the way that his contemporaries have acclaimed Wasim Akram as the greatest bowler of his generation. When that accolade comes from Brian Lara, the greatest batsman of the same generation, then that is high praise indeed.

Similarly, a host of Australians have stood up at the moment of McGrath's achievement to agree with Lara. That's saying something too since these are Australians who played in the last two decades, when their team ruled world cricket.

(As an aside, it has been interesting to hear the insight of Australian cricketers who have turned to commentary--I have always been impressed by Michael Slater but Damien Fleming has been a revelation. It just shows that success at cricket requires sharp brains, a topic I will return to in relation to Pakistan cricket.)

Wasim Akram was a colossus in world cricket, and the World Cup story was closely entwined with his own in the 1990s. It began with an inspirational triumph in 1992, when his late order hitting and double wicket burst swung the final for Pakistan. Everybody already knew that Wasim could make the ball talk but he went and did in a World Cup final.

Post Imran, the future looked to belong to Wasim but it never properly worked out the way it should have. In 1996, he missed the quarter-final defeat to India with a rib injury. And the 1999 campaign was a triumph but for the disaster of the final and a stumble against Bangladesh. On both occasions, as now, unsubstantiated accusations of match-fixing complicated the mourning.

That 1999 side, to my mind, was probably the best Pakistan has ever fielded at a World Cup and they played like world beaters. Waqar Younis was 12th man for heaven's sake. Indeed, the victory over Australia at Headingley was perhaps the finest by a Pakistan team in a World Cup outside the final two performances in 1992.

The resources available to Pakistan cricket in the 1990s allowed an administrative complacency to set in that has encouraged its foundations to crumble away. It created a complacency among the players too that manifested itself in sometimes hopeless performances.

Despite all his records, many people wonder if Wasim and his team could have achieved even more? Perhaps he and they could have. But let's remember he achieved all he did despite a career made more difficult by diabetes and the crazy politics of Pakistan cricket. Let's also remember that, like McGrath and like Lara, he achieved the utmost respect of his contemporaries. No higher praise is possible.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here