Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the build-up to 2019 World Cup in the countdown of the greatest moments in the tournament’s history. You can read the entire series here.
When one thinks of match-winning performances in World Cup finals, one can’t help but remember the likes of Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Vivian Richards scoring centuries by tearing the opposition apart. Having said that, cricket’s most important matches haven’t always been decided by batsmen.
In the 11 World Cup finals so far, there have been several game-changing performances by bowlers as well. Keith Boyce’s four-for went a long way in taking West Indies past Australia in the summit clash in 1975, Joel Garner’s five-wicket haul against England in 1979 ensured the Windies retained their title, Madan Lal and Mohinder Amarnath’s three-fors were instrumental in restricting West Indies in 1983, just as Shane Warne’s four wickets helped Australia close out Pakistan in 1999. Most recently, Mitchell Starc killed the 2015 final in the fifth ball of the match itself by shattering the stumps of New Zealand’s trump card Brendon McCullum.
Among these legendary spells is one by the finest left-arm seamer to ever play the game, a man who will stroll into any and every all-time XI. Wasim Akram’s 3/49 off 10 overs in the 1992 final against England will never be forgotten by Pakistani fans, especially his second and third wicket in his return spell.
The ‘Sultan of Swing’ was on a hat-trick on March 25, 1992, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and how he got there had left the cricketing world in awe.
Reverse swing is an art that fascinates people to date, Akram is one of the original exponents of it. In the 1992 World Cup final, he showed the full range of what he could do with a cricket ball in hand.
England’s title march ‘reversed’
Akram’s influence on the match took effect in the first innings itself, after Pakistan captain Imran Khan won the toss and asked England to take the field. Promoted to bat at No 6, the left-hander bludgeoned an 18-ball 33 to take his team to 249/6 in 50 overs.
However, a sub-250 total against one of the strongest teams in the tournament was always going to be tough to defend. Pakistan needed to strike early to remain in the contest. And Akram did exactly that by removing the dangerous Ian Botham for nought.
Three more wickets between Mushtaq Ahmed and Aaqib Javed got England on their knees at 69/4. Graham Gooch’s men needed 181 more runs to win at that time and it seemed like a sub-continental team was going to take home the coveted trophy.
But Neil Fairbrother and Allan Lamb weren’t going to go away without a fight, though. The No 5 and 6 batsmen went about resurrecting the chase by playing counter-attacking cricket. The left-hand, right-hand combination disturbed Pakistan’s rhythm as England muscled their way back in the contest.
At 138/4 after 34 overs, England needed 112 runs from 96 balls to win the World Cup for the first time. That’s when Khan decided to go for the jugular. He brought Akram back into the attack in search of a breakthrough. The left-arm pacer had bowled just five overs at that time and was ready to go full throttle again.
Fairbrother managed to take three runs off the first four balls of the 35th over, but there was one major problem staring at England’s face – the ball was reverse-swinging big-time.
Akram decided to bowl the fifth delivery of the over to the right-handed Lamb from around the wicket. The plan was to angle the ball in and move it away late. And he did just that.
The ball he ended up bowling will be a part of cricketing folklore. It darted in and reversed right at the end to knock over the off-stump. The Englishman put his bat forward tamely but he never had a clue.
Akram, though, wasn’t done yet. The next batsman to walk in was Chris Lewis. The right-hander thought he knew what Akram intended to do – swing the ball away from around the wicket. But the fast-bowler knew better. He steamed in and bowled the perfect in-swinger. It was angled wide, dipped in, cut in sharply, and took the inside edge before rattling the stumps. The 87,000-plus spectators in the stadium couldn’t believe their eyes.
This was fast bowling of the highest caliber, on the biggest stage, in the grandest arena. Akram didn’t manage to complete a hat-trick but the damage had been done.
His burst had turned the tie on its head. England ended up getting bowled out in the last over for 227, handing Pakistan their first and only World Cup title. No surprises who got the Player of the Match award.