September 23, 2011

Retiring Pakistan speedster remembers his contests against Tendulkar ahead of the high voltage ICC Cricket World Cup semis in Mohali.

To play or not to play Shoaib Akhtar in the ICC Cricket World Cup semifinal against India may be the question confronting the Pakistan camp, but any contest between the mercurial Pakistan speedster and Sachin Tendulkar will always be a mouthwatering event to look forward to.

Three shy of 250 ODI wickets, Akhtar probably never expected this opportunity to present itself in this ICC CWC, but given half a chance, he would like to bowl to Tendulkar once more before pulling the curtain on his roller-coaster career.

“A battle with Sachin is always special. Not because of the India-Pakistan rivalry but because of the fact he is a great batsman whose wicket you will always want,” Akhtar told in a recent interview in Colombo.

Among Akhtar’s most memorable moments is cleaning up Tendulkar for a first-ball duck in the first match of the Asian Test championship at Eden Gardens in February 1999. Akhtar got the back-to-back wickets of Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar, as he finished with an eight-wicket match haul. Pakistan won the Test by 46 runs.

Akhtar remembers Tendulkar’s dismissal quite vividly. “He wasn’t focused and he seemed to be a little ignorant as well. It certainly wasn’t my best ball. I bowled him a full-pitched delivery and I was sure he would straight drive it for a four, but he missed,” reminisced the 36-year-old.

Akhtar doesn’t rate Tendulkar among his top-three batsmen in the world. “He would never take me on, something which an Adam Gilchrist or Brian Lara would do. Sachin is surely a great batsman, but I was never in awe of him,” Akhtar said during the exclusive chat.

Not only Tendulkar’s first-ball dismissal, Akhtar remembers the Asian Test championship match at the Eden Gardens for a controversial run out that cost the Little Master his wicket in the second innings. For the first time in almost 12 years, Akhtar has cleared the air, saying he could not be faulted for the dismissal.

“I wasn’t even looking at Sachin. I was watching the ball. I wish I had four eyes because I didn’t see Sachin going through my groin. He should have avoided me and believe me, there was no element of unfairness. Sachin just got stuck. Bad luck,” Akhtar explained.

Tendulkar’s dismissal inflamed the Eden crowd. Vandalism in the stands forced the police to evict all the fans and the match had to be completed in front of an empty stadium. “It was a sad ending but there was no way we would have recalled Tendulkar. He would then have taken the match away from us,” Akhtar said.

Akhtar has been quite successful against Tendulkar in the World Cup as well. During a World Cup pool A match at Centurion on March 1, 2003, Akhtar denied Tendulkar a well-deserved century. Tendulkar did set up India’s six wicket win, but he edged Akhtar to Younis Khan when on 98!

Both Akhtar and Younis are available in Mohali on Wednesday. Will Pakistan play Akhtar purely because of psychological reasons?

Courtesy: ESPN STAR

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