‘It’s impossible to imagine a fan-less ‘92 World Cup final’

June 7, 2020

Pakistan legend Wasim Akram talks to TNS about a variety of issues ranging from life in the times of coronavirus to the idea of having a World Cup without spectators

Last Wednesday, Wasim Akram celebrated his 54th birthday. It was a quite affair at his DHA residence in Karachi with just his wife Shaniera and 5-year-old daughter Ailya. There was cake and dinner was ordered from Okra, a posh restaurant.

“The last few months have been like that,” Wasim told ‘The News on Sunday’ in an interview. “The coronavirus pandemic has completely changed our lives.”

The pandemic has really changed everything and cricket is no exception.

There hasn’t been any competitive cricket action since March this year when the Pakistan Super League (PSL) had to be abruptly suspended because of growing fears of the pandemic.

After a lull of almost three months hopes about the resumption of international action have rekindled with West Indies agreeing to tour England this month and Pakistan planning to visit the country later this summer.

However, all matches are to be played in bio-secure conditions which means they would be held behind closed doors with no crowds.

“It’s unfortunate because crowds are an essential part of a cricket match,” said Wasim. “Ask any international player and they would tell you that the atmosphere makes all the difference. You talk to our players like Yasir Shah who has taken so many wickets and won so many Tests in the UAE but in front of empty stadiums. Players like Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq have played big knocks but without any crowds to make it more memorable.”

So is Wasim against the idea of having international matches behind closed doors?

Not really.

“All sports all over the world are suffering because of the pandemic. So cricket isn’t alone. Life has to go on. But we have to keep health and safety of all as the most important thing that is why all precautions have to be taken.”

Almost a full-time TV commentator, Wasim in fact welcomes the idea of the resumption of bilateral matches like the forthcoming England-West Indies series and Pakistan’s tour of the UK later this summer.

So what about the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in Australia during October-November this year?

While Wasim backs bilateral matches despite the Covid-19 situation, he believes that the international cricket chiefs should wait for a more conducive time before going ahead with plans for holding multi-nation tournaments like the Twenty20 World Cup.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said referring to the possibility that the International Cricket Council (ICC) could opt to go ahead with the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year. “I mean, how could you have a World Cup without spectators. A World Cup is all about big crowds, spectators coming from all parts of the globe to support their teams. It’s about atmosphere and you cannot get it behind closed doors.

“So I believe that they (ICC) should wait for a more suitable time and once this pandemic subsides and restrictions are eased then we can have a proper World Cup.”

With proper World Cup, Wasim is thinking of a memorable tournament held in Australia and New Zealand 28 years ago. It was at the 1992 World Cup where Wasim built his most cherished cricketing memories.

It was March 25 and Pakistan were featuring in the final against England. Wasim sizzled with the bat smashing an 18-ball cameo that added 33 valuable runs to Pakistan’s total. He then mesmerized the cricket world with a memorable spell of pace bowling that floored England’s much-vaunted batting line-up. With more than 87,000 fans in attendance at the iconic MCG, Pakistan won the World Cup, their only world title in the 50-over format, and Wasim was named as the man-of-the-final.

“I still remember the final as if it was yesterday. The feeling and the atmosphere were unbelievable.”

It was then that I asked him to imagine playing the 1992 World Cup final without any spectators present. There was this pause.

“As much as I tried, I can’t imagine any such thing. I mean there is no way I can visualise playing that match behind closed doors. It’s impossible,” he said.

“It was my greatest memory that Pakistan won the World Cup but it couldn’t have felt the same without that electric atmosphere at MCG.”

From the World Cup, we moved to another topic that’s close to Wasim’s heart - is the future fast bowling.

Cricket has been a batsman’s game for quite some time and Wasim fears that post Covid-19 restrictions could make things even worse for bowlers.

In a bid to minimise infection, experts have called for precautionary measures once cricketing action resumes. And among those restrictions will be a ban on the use of saliva for ball management.

Wasim is of the view that the ICC needs to find ways and means to keep it a fair battle between the bat and the ball.

“As a bowler, I know how hard it is to get wickets when the conditions are not very conducive,” he said. “So I’m sure fast bowlers won’t like it if they are stopped from using saliva to shine the ball. They are allowing sweat but I can say for sure that it isn’t the same. You shine the ball with saliva and sweat is just something of an add-on, a top-up. Too much use of sweat will leave the cricket ball too wet.”

For a man who is regarded among the greatest fast bowlers of all time, Wasim, who took 414 Test and 502 ODI wickets during a celebrated international career, surely knows what he’s talking about.

So what’s the solution?

“Well to be honest it’s the job of the experts who are there to find the remedies. There are many accomplished cricketers on the ICC committees and I’m sure that they must be working on it.

“Personally, I believe that they will need to find a reasonable solution. Allowing the use of sweat to shine the ball isn’t enough. I don’t know whether an artificial substance, something like gel that is good enough to do the job is available presently.

“But I would say that they will need to find a quick fix to this problem. Already, cricket is facing a gigantic task considering the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has put a halt to all action.

“And even when cricket resumes, we will see teams playing behind closed doors. There will be no spectators, no crowds.”

Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News and can be reached at [email protected]

‘It’s impossible to imagine a fan-less ‘92 World Cup final’