No. 33 August 2, 2009

Shoaib strikes twice

India get hit midships by the Rawalpindi Express

Kolkata, 17 February 1999

Session breaks are tricky things to negotiate. Many batsmen, even the best-set, succumb to its distractions. Precisely midway through the second day of the inaugural game of the Asian Test Championship, between Pakistan and India in Kolkata in February 1999, Rahul Dravid and Sadagoppan Ramesh were grinding India into Pakistan's measly first innings 185. At 147 for 2, drinks were taken.

Immediately after, Shoaib Akhtar sprinted in to Dravid, who was then still placing bricks into the wall he eventually became. For nearly two hours and 92 balls, he had stood resolute.

The ball began its 51st over of duty a low full-toss, then ducked suddenly, two-thirds of the way down towards toenails - sensing the bat perhaps - and curved. By the time Dravid slapped his bat down to his feet, it was beyond him and clattering leg stump. Hello, what's this?

In strolled the best batsman in the world, a tsunami of noise with him. A hop and a crouch, a quick scan of fielders, elbow protection nudged and guard taken. Still only one slip in place, and in raced Shoaib. This one was a low full-toss; it dipped and swerved less, but seemed even quicker. As opposed to Dravid, feet rooted in beaten defence, Tendulkar shifted his back foot across to cover an off stump line and on-drove. He was beaten, by pace or swing who knows, but truly beaten, middle stump unluckier than its mates either side. Hello, this was magic.

Shoaib continued, on to his knees, head skywards, arms outstretched like some Jesus Christ Superstar. Did he know this was only the second golden duck of Tendulkar's career? Did he sense that vacancies for the toughest job in Pakistan cricket, as Wasim Akram got older and Waqar Younis less effective, existed? He wasn't yet the most notorious cricketer on the planet, just a monstrously quick bowler - leaner than now, more hair, different action. We'd heard about his speed. Now we saw it. We also peeked at the nose for theatre that was to simultaneously blight and light up his career forever after.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine