Rewinding the clock over three decades back, when the Arab cricketer and millionaire Abdur Rahman Bukhathir at first brought cricket to Sharjah. He was the mastermind behind the 50-over format tournament that involved main cricketing nations from Asia and Australasia – India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh. The first edition of the Austral-Asia Cup was played in 1986 and similar to the ICC Cricket World Cup, the next edition was played four years later. A total of three Austral-Asia Cups were played before the tournament was terminated due to the busy international fixture.
All the three editions of the tournaments were won by Pakistan. Even if the Austral-Asia Cup is not played anymore, it will always be cherished because of a 24-year-old young cricketer, who eventually ended his career as a legend. The man, who is considered to be the best left-arm pacer ever bowled in cricket; the man who mastered the art of swing, seam along maintaining a high speed – Wasim Akram. The fast bowler’s association with Sharjah strengthen, even more, owning to his spell in the final on May 4, 1990. The defending champions were up against an Australian side that had was on a 10-match winning streak. Australia’s Simon O’Donnell had set a record of the fastest fifty in the ODI in their semi-final against Sri Lanka.
In order to go past the determined and high on spirit Australia, Pakistan needed to play their best-ever ODI cricket. Pakistan unquestionably were under immense pressure and in a situation like that, they hoped their in-form bowler, Waqar Younis, stepped up to lead them to an excellent victory. Prior to the grand finale, Waqar, who had 15 wickets in four matches, had taken four wickets in an innings three successive times: 4-42, 6-26 and 5-20. However, it was Akram who scripted Pakistan’s victory with his incredible all-around performance.
Imran Khan won the toss and elected to bat first. Saeed Anwar and Saleem Yousuf opened the innings for Pakistan. Batting against the Australian fiery-and-fast, Terry Alderman, Merv Hughes, Simon O’Donnell and Carl Rackemann, Yousuf fell early, while Saeed got Pakistan going with his fearless 40 off 37 that contained a six and seven fours. Javed Miandad, who hit a six off the last ball to win the inaugural Austral-Asia Cup in 1986, left Pakistan struggling at 80 for 3. The next man who walked in was Saleem Malik and it was his 87 runs off 104 balls that revived Pakistan’s innings.
Whilst he was doing his job at one end, Pakistan lost wickets from the other end. The next batsman to disappoint the team was their middle-order batsman, Ijaz Ahmed who was dismissed cheaply for 20 runs. Following that fall of the wicket, Pakistan’s tail had begun. So far, Australia were ahead as they had everything in control. Akram was next at the crease, Pakistan’s wayward all-rounder. Little did both the teams know it was his day – with both bat and ball.
Pakistan was 179 for 6 when Akram faced his first delivery. At the age of 24, his contemporary batting was already regarded high. Although his numbers never defended his ability to bat but on a good day at the office, Akram had the potential to tear any bowling attack into pieces. The final of Austral-Asia Cup 1990 was one of those occasions. Akram’s 49 off 35 balls, that was inclusive of a four and three sixes, recovered Pakistan from 179 for 6 to 266 for 7 at the end of 50 overs. The two out of the three sixes that Akram had smashed came on the final over and had landed into the stands. He had managed to clinch 18 runs off the last over, which was bowled by Donnell.
Since Australia lost the match by 36 odd runs, Akram’s firing towards the end eventually cost Australia the final.
Australia’s chase of 267 runs in 50 overs was off to a great start, owning to David Boon and Mark Taylor’s opening stand of 62 runs. Pakistan finally broke the stand by running Boon out and the wicket was followed by Dean Jones’ dismissal without a run being added. At 62 for 2, all of a sudden Australia had two new batsmen at the crease. A couple of deliveries later, Waqar Younis struck again as he had removed another crucial man, the skipper this time. Allan Border walked back having contributed just a run and Australia were still 203 runs away from the target.
Mark Taylor, just after he reached a fighting half-century, was also run out and that wicket had left Australia at 133 for 4. Steve Waugh and Donnell’s partnership for the fifth wicket revived Australia’s innings and brought back the Kangaroos into the game. As Australia looked to slowly take the final away, leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed’s three wickets put the brake after Waugh and O’Donnell had added 54 for the fifth wicket. He removed Donnell, Waugh and Peter Taylor in a span of 20 runs. At 207 for 7, Australia had tail-enders Ian Healy and Merv Hughes fighting to save the ‘almost lost’ match.
The duo added 23 runs before Akram’s devastating spell began. He cleaned up Merv Hughes’s leg-stump (9), Carl Rackemann’s middle stump (0) and then sent Terry Alderman (0) to record his second hat-trick in ODIs in six months. Against West Indies in October 1989, he had registered his maiden ODI hat-trick; the spell had come at the same venue of Sharjah. The incredible all-round performance from a young Akram in 1990 final not only ended Australia’s 10-match streak but also made him the first-ever cricketer in the history of cricket to bag two ODI hat-tricks. Akram, who retired from international cricket 14 years back, still remains the only man to have clinched two hat-tricks each in Tests and one-days.