Pakistan v Australia, 2nd Test, Sharjah, 2002-03. December 19, 2009

Raging bull

Extreme heat can do things to people: in Sharjah in 2002 it turned Shoaib into a madman

Pakistan were home away from home. In Sharjah, the on-field temperature was touching 50 degrees. Andy Bichel, one of the fittest men in the game, bowled five overs and was put on a drip. This was extreme sport. "I just told her to switch on the fan-forced oven, turn it up and let it blow over here; that's what it was like," was how Matthew Hayden, the Aussie opener, explained the conditions to his wife.

But Shoaib Akhtar wanted to turn up the heat further. He had taken 5 for 5 in 15 in a losing cause in the first Test, in Colombo. Pakistan had been bowled out for 59 on the first morning in Sharjah. Shoaib was required for retribution.

You can't help but admire his chutzpah, but there's part of you that worries about how unhinged he might have been to pick Hayden as a target. Shoaib was fighting the odds: the scoreboard, the heat, Hayden's form, and his aggressive nature.

Shoaib started the feud by complaining to umpire Steve Bucknor that Hayden was backing up too far. Words were exchanged.

Later, with Hayden past 100, Shoaib returned to the attack. First he bounced Hayden, who swayed out the way. More chat. Next ball was edged to third man for four. Shoaib not happy. Next, he stopped at the crease after a full run-up, warning Shane Warne this time that he was backing up too far.

In he came again and Hayden, for no apparent reason, pulled away at the last second. Shoaib had already expended an over's worth of energy, but there were still two balls to go. The next ball was short and Hayden ducked into it. Shoaib's reaction was predictable and verbal. And Hayden, once he was back on his feet, responded in kind.

The match and series was one-sided. So, in truth, was this contest but the raw brutality of it, in such extreme conditions, left an indelible memory.

John Stern is editor of the Wisden Cricketer, where this article was first published