Many would agree that the Pakistan cricket team squad in the year 1999 was one of the best of all time. The sheer talent in that team, at that point of time, was unrivaled. You had the likes of Azhar Mehmood, Abdur Razzaq, and Shoaib Akhtar along with several others in their primes with Wasim Akram leading the side. The captain had a controversial past but for many, he was the ideal leader for the team. At this point of time the team had shifted its focus towards introducing younger talent in the side as a result of which Akram had a relatively more cooperative side and as a result of that, he had unprecedented authority. It was Akram who bought Razzaq in the squad when he was only 19 years of age while also paving the way for Saqlain Mushtaq to become a member of the squad and boy did all of these players delivered.
The combined effort of the team resulted in the team decimating their opponents to emerge as the strongest side in a tournament which also featured some of the most competitive teams in the world of cricket at that point of time. Everything seemed to be going Pakistan’s way as they proceeded to the finals of the tournament after defeating New Zealand. Australia, on the other hand, had to scratch and claw their way towards the finals after a nail-biting match against South Africa. Pakistan had beaten Australia previously and thus emerged as the favorites to win the world cup, after all, Australia was the weaker team and surely if we had beaten them once than we could do it all over again. Alas, this was how things turned out eventually.
Over the years several analysts of the sports have debated regarding Akram’s decision to bat first after winning the toss in spite of the overcast conditions. Conventional wisdom dictated that Akram should have opted to bowl first and Pakistan team had to pay dearly for taking the decision to bat first in such conditions. The team was completely outclassed by one Shane Warne, who went on to receive the man of the match award, and were all bowled out for only 132 runs, which was also the lowest score in the entire world cup. Australian batsmen managed to chase the target in just 20 overs at a loss of two wickets. A match that was being touted as one of the most competitive finals on paper turned out to be nothing more than an underwhelming lopsided bout.
The reactions to the defeat were hostile, to say the least. Critics immediately lashed out at Akram for his decision to bat first. There were many who suspected foul play and there were accusations of match-fixing being leveled against the players. The loss also resulted in Akram losing his captaincy. The allegations of match-fixing were never proven but the reputation of the team had been tarnished and the defeat in the big game also highlighted the mental fragility of the players. The decision to bat first may have been wrong but the players were equally responsible for playing some incredibly rash shots and throwing away their wickets. Australia, on the other hand, had been on the verge of being knocked a couple of times during the tournament but the team persevered and they truly deserved the success they got. It took a long time for the team to regain the confidence that they had lost and the game played a key role in highlighting the strength of mental fitness along with the physical fitness. Not all was lost though since the tournament gave a platform to future superstars of the team notably Shoaib Akhtar who emerged as one of the most promising prospects for the team for years to come. His career’s trajectory is a topic for an entirely different piece.