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Akram gets into the swing of things

Vishal Dikshit
Wasim Akram's performance in the 1992 final is all the more astonishing when viewed in the light of the circumstances

The 1992 World Cup final was a contest between the best team on paper (England), and the most improved one (Pakistan). Fortunes swung one way then the other: circumspect Pakistan put together 249 for 6 on the back of 153 runs in the last 20 overs.

Wasim Akram, who had scored 33 off 18, jolted England straightaway in the second innings, having Ian Botham caught behind with a brute of a delivery from round the wicket. England were soon on a precarious 69 for 4, but Allan Lamb and Neil Fairbrother recharged the innings with 72 runs in 14 overs, and Pakistan's hopes diminished with every passing run. 

After 34 overs Imran Khan tossed the ball to his understudy, Akram, who was proving to be unplayable under lights with the concoction of prodigious swing and searing pace.

Batting on 31, Lamb prepared to face his first ball from Akram. Round the wicket again, Akram planted the inswinger around off stump just short of length, leaving Lamb in a dilemma of whether to go back or forward. Lamb looked to cover his stumps, but with no footwork. The ball held its line after pitching, Lamb played inside the line, and the off stump was knocked over. He looked back at the stumps, and then at the pitch, seemingly in disbelief.  

In came Chris Lewis, considered a natural stroke-maker. Akram pitched it wider outside off, curving it in beautifully through the air. Lewis took a big stride forward and brought his bat down but wasn't quick enough and dragged the ball on to the middle stump. 

Those were the most decisive blows. Akram's performance should be in the context of the situation. A record crowd at the MCG - more than 87,000 strong - had their eyes on Akram, who became only the fourth bowler to bag a Man-of-the-Match award in the 1992 World Cup. 

Dermot Reeve denied him the hat-trick but the damage had been done. Fairbrother's 62 only took them to 180, and his wicket virtually ended England's chances. Pakistan sealed the win by 22 runs and Imran lifted his first World Cup, two weeks after he had said Pakistan were "at rock bottom in morale".

Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo