February 16, 2003

Akram, Akhtar decimate Namibia in trial by fire

KIMBERLEY - The Pakistan pace duo of Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar decimated new minnows Namibia without a hint of remorse. Both shared nine out of 10 wickets to fall as the game finished with Namibia bowled out for 84 in only 17.4 overs, the lowest consumed by a side in a One-day International, here at Kimberley, as Pakistan registered its first win in this World Cup. The heavy margin of victory also ensured a much-desired improvement in Pakistan's net run-rate.

Namibia for its part had frustrated the Pakistan batsmen by never allowing them to score freely through fine tight bowling backed up by their agile fielding.

Namibia's act of containment worked, and barring a brief spell towards the close when Rashid Latif and Akram in yet another cameo took the total to a respectable 255 for nine - 82 of these coming in the last 10 overs in exchange for six wickets, Pakistan mostly struggled to up the ante.

Compared to the run-fest by Zimbabwe (340 for two) against them, Namibia had shown marked improvement in discipline and control in bowling and athleticism in the field, though two catches were still dropped.

But all this was to no avail, as Akram and Akhtar were let loose by Waqar Younis with field placing so aggressive - five slips, a gully and a point - that it seemed to border on overkill.

Akram (5 for 28) and Akhtar (4 for 46) in any case didn't require much help from the fielders. Six of their nine dismissals were either bowled or leg-befores.

Matching each other wicket for wicket from the word go, both reduced the Namibian innings to tatters in almost no time. By the end of third over, Namibians were 17 for five, and the rout was not to be stemmed.

Celebrating most appearances in the World Cup (34) to move ahead of Javed Miandad and Steve Waugh, Akram notched his sixth five-for in One-day Internationals. Already the leading wicket-taker in World Cups, he raced past 50 scalps in the process. His all-round performance bagged him the Man of the Match award.

Akram drew first blood on the fourth delivery of the innings when he had Riaan Walters caught by Latif at the wicket. Akhtar had Stephan Swanepoel brilliantly caught by Inzamam-ul-Haq in the slips and knocked out Danie Keulder's middle stump with his first and third deliveries. Akram snapped up another two (Gavin Murgatroyd and Louis Burger, both lbw) in two deliveries, and Akhtar was to repeat the double blow by having Jan-Berry Burger caught by Younis Khan in the slips and then cleaning up Gerrie Synman leg before. Akram again took two wickets, spread over two overs. At 9 for 42, the end seemed nigh but the last pair of Bjorn Kotze and Rudie van Vuuren (the debutant who has represented Namibia before this in the 1998 Rugby World Cup in England as well) hung in gamely, striking a few lusty blows. Akhtar clean bowled Kotze with a brute of a yorker at 52, but it was a no-ball. And before Waqar Younis caught van Vuuren in the covers off Saqlain Mushtaq's fourth delivery, the two between them exactly doubled the score, adding 42 for the 10th wicket stand.

But despite the heavy defeat, Namibia, consisting of nine players in only their second One-day International and two debutants, made its point. It lived up to the promise it made on the eve of their second big one against Pakistan: that it would remain on a learning curve and make things tough for its much better endowed opponents. That it could do so while bowling and not batting ought not discourage them and certainly adds to the batting worries of Pakistan.

As Waqar Younis won the toss and elected to bat, Saleem Elahi made 63 (100 balls, 5 fours) at the top of the order after he was put down at 38 as Pakistan fielded a different set of openers in only their second game, dropping Shahid Afridi and Taufeeq Umar, and bringing in Saeed Anwar and Saqlain Mushtaq.

Playing his first game in nearly six months, Anwar (23, 35 balls, 3 fours) was either all timing and elegance or wholly at sea as he was struck on the pads at least three times before holing out in the covers. Younis Khan came in and upped the tempo a bit in a stand of 58 for the second wicket as Elahi too opened a trifle to take Pakistan past the hundred. But Younis was caught behind trying to run one down fine to third man, and Inzamam, so hopelessly out of form that he has made just 10 in two outings, was clean bowled by a slow turner from Deon Kotze. That brought Yousuf Youhana to the crease, and he played some grand strokes and as Elahi got out exactly at 150, he went on to add 58 at better than a run a ball with an improvising Rashid. Both departed within 15 runs of each other, and it was left to Akram (20 off 14 deliveries) to remain there till the end and add some useful runs.

Pakistan won on the strength of the bowling and Namibia should be well satisfied with their bowling performance and must have gained some useful experience in learning how to cope with fiery pace.

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