Karachi: Veteran Pakistani fast bowler Wasim Akram hopes to make his fifth and final World Cup appearance memorable by helping his team emerge triumphant in the mega event. "I have gone through many trials and tribulations and now wish to win the Cup for Pakistan to have a memorable swansong in the game I love the most," said Akram. Compatriot Javed Miandad holds the world record of six World Cup finals appearances, while Sri Lanka's Aravinda de Silva will also be playing his fifth tournament.
Akram, 36, is still considered one of the most feared and respected bowlers in the world for his uncanny skill to unsettle the best batsmen with shrewd variations in pace. He may have shed his speed of late, but knows a trick or two more than many of his contemporaries to make batsmen struggle for each run. Akram is the only bowler in the world to have captured more than 400 wickets in both Tests and One-dayers.
His illustrious career, however, has not been without controversies as his name was dragged into the mire of match-fixing before being cleared. "Everybody tried and tested me with court hearings and inquiries, but I was cleared and now want to show the world I can help Pakistan win the Cup one more time," said Akram, a member of the 1992 World Cup-winning squad. Akram's worst moment as captain came in the 1996 tournament when his team lost to arch-rivals India in the quarter-finals at Bangalore after he had pulled out of the match due to a shoulder injury.
He was accused of match-fixing and his house in Lahore was pelted with stones by irate fans. "We had a strong side and were the favourites, but lost in the quarter-finals. My injury affected the team's performance, but the reaction was disheartening," recalled Akram. It was a tribute to his mental toughness that he defied the odds and came back strongly to lead Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup in England where his team lost to Australia in the final at Lord's.
"We had a very young team, but reached the final and I would never have any regrets losing that final to Australia," said Akram. He was 21 when he made his first appearance in the 1987 World Cup and his team's defeat in the semi-final against Australia at Lahore left him crying. "That was my first World Cup and everyone tipped us to win, but thank God we finally did that in Australia in 1992," he said.
Akram played a big role in his team's triumph as he bagged 18 wickets in the tournament, including three in the final against England besides making a 19-ball 33. "Winning the World Cup is the ultimate and that was definitely the most memorable moment of my life," said Akram. He has still not lost the enthusiasm and fire to serve his team to the best of his ability despite suffering from diabetes, saying he will target every batsman in the World Cup. "Beware Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, I am going to target everyone," he warned.