It was on April 27, 2002, that a fast bowler touched the 100mph mark with his lightning delivery. Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar bowled at 100.04 mph (161 kmph) to New Zealand's Craig McMillan during a One Day International in Lahore.
I remember Khalid Butt, then media manager of the Pakistan Cricket Board, proudly putting out a statement on this feat though the International Cricket Council (ICC) did not approve of it - stating that it did not have a standard measuring tool.
Akhtar never bothered whether his pace was recognised or not and said: “It doesn’t matter to me whether somebody recognises the speed gun or not. For me, it’s satisfying that I have bowled the fastest-ever delivery.”
I was lucky to watch Akhtar at his fastest on many occasions. He could terrorise batsmen and derived some sort of a special thrill watching the fear on the batsman’s face as he approached to bowl at them.
Pacers have a peculiar mindset. They love to paint themselves as cruel people and even make statements that can generate fear. Once when I’d asked Akhtar on how rewarding it had been to be known as the fastest bowler, and his response was: “You need to be a little mad to become a fast bowler.”
After Akhtar turned a commentator, he would always come and sit with journalists and crack jokes. With so much humour up his sleeve, I often wondered how he could present a different image of himself on the field during his playing days. Akhtar is now using his sense of humor in his tweets, though like his deliveries, he hardly bothers if his tweets hurt people or a nation sometimes.
Australia’s Jeff Thomson- who once bowled at 99.8 mph in 1975, till Akhtar bettered it, was another player who won many fans through his fearsome pace. He created fear among batsmen through his statements too. He’d once remarked that he liked batsmen on the field with spilled blood (though he later denied saying it). However, once Thomson hit Sri Lanka’s Duleep Mendis on his head, and even though Mendis was lying flat on the ground, Thomson turned his back away to walk towards the runner-up mark. He had also hit Sri Lanka’s Sunil Wettimuny on his toe with a yorker, and as the batsman came out of the crease writhing in pain, he ran down, broke the wicket, and appealed for a run-out.
Known to all as ‘Thommo,’ his name itself created fear. Years later, when I met him as a commentator, one wondered whether it was the same man whom the world once feared. To get wickets, pacers resort to different ways.
It reminds me of Sri Lanka pacer Lasith Malinga’s remark: “In cricket, if we merely survive, I don’t think anyone can go far. You have to find ways to be a matchwinner.”