February 25, 2003

Pakistan outclass Dutch as Akram scales summit

Wasim Akram, rated as the greatest one-day bowler by Wisden, today scaled another much-anticipated summit to become the first-ever to 500 one-day international wickets. And though Pakistan scored two runs less than their previous-best of 255 in the 2003 World Cup, it was enough to outclass the Dutch by 97 runs.

Despite Pakistan being rather generous in conceding extras (40, which beat their own record of 31 in this World Cup against Australia), the Dutch were skittled out for 156, with 10.3 overs remaining unconsumed.

But the day belonged to the 36-year-old Akram, inarguably the greatest left-handed pace bowler to have graced the game. He reached the milestone as Nick Statham played him into the ground only to be mortified to see it deflecting on to the stumps. An elated Akram went into a long celebratory huddle with his delighted mates.

Later, when he brought the match to a close with his third wicket, which took his overall tally to 502 in 354 matches, his mates and the team management presented him with a huge bouquet of 500 roses - each rose representing one scalp.

Statham's scalp was the beginning of the end for the Netherlands, as three more wickets went rather quickly, with Akram striking again after Shoaib Akhtar and Waqar Younis had a wicket apiece in between. At 43 for four in ten overs, with none of the top four getting into double figures, an early end seemed nigh. But Daan van Bunge, Tim de Leede, Lucas van Troost and Hendrik-Jan Mol all showed lots of grit and got going, but none progressing farther than van Bunge's 31. Once Mol got out, three wickets fell quickly and although the last wicket pair of Roland Lefebvre and Jeroen Smits did potter around for a while to add 18 to the total and brought the margin under three figures, the writing was pretty much on the wall.

Quite appropriately, Akram finished the Dutch innings with his third wicket.

Shoaib Akhtar got another three as the remaining four were shared one each by Waqar, Saqlain, Razzaq and Saeed Anwar.

In the end, the greenshirts would be happy to have strung together their second win from four games, and add four points to the previous four they gained against Namibia. These points, crucial as they are, were vitally important to keep alive the dream of a spot in the Super Sixes.

For Pakistan, the game yielded quite a few positives. A win is a win, and even if it is against a bottom-ranked outfit, it still adds to the morale and self-belief. And if Pakistan lacks in anything at this point, it is these two vital ingredients. Secondly, with Taufeeq Umar (drafted in for Shahid Afridi), Abdul Razzaq and Yousuf Youhana all batting with a measure of confidence and putting some runs against their names would be of undoubted relief.

Inzamam-ul-Haq got a second successive duck, but this time he was not entirely to be blamed for his fall, for his leg-before decision on tv replays showed that there was a tiny inside edge. The point remains though, where was his bat and how come he 'almost' missed a good straight ball on the stumps?

But Pakistan's aspiration to overwhelm the Dutch with batting remained unfulfilled especially when skipper Lefebvre provided them an ideal opportunity when he chose to field after winning the toss. Given that Pakistan's strength was bowling, the motive behind putting Pakistan in may have been to stretch the game as far as possible. Or, after having contained the Indian batting powerhouse to only 204 on this very ground, Lefebvre may have thought that his best chance was in taking advantage of the brittleness of Pakistan batting.

If the latter was the intention, he certainly succeeded in restricting Pakistan from scoring heavily. Something in the region of 300 would have been Pakistan's desire, and despite his modest bowling resources ended up getting nine wickets.

Despite fielding a fourth fresh pair of openers in as many games, Pakistan got off to a solid start through Saeed Anwar and Taufeeq.

Having posted 61, however, Anwar yet again fell in the 20s, and Taufeeq and Razzaq - who according to manager Shaharyar Khan would from now on be manning the number three position just as he did during the 1999 World Cup - threw it away when their individual fifty was there for the taking.

Inzamam, Saleem Elahi, who had come in for injured Younis Khan, and Akram all went cheaply, but Youhana and Rashid Latif provided some substance to the total while Akhtar, promoted after his exploits against England, played out another superb cameo.

The total of 253 was some 20 to 30 runs shorter than a stronger finish would have yielded, but that was enough to see off the Dutch.