His ability to work up a sharp pace and swing and reverse the ball made Aaqib Javed a dangerous customer, but caught in the Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis era meant he got to play only 22 Tests for Pakistan.
However, mention Sharjah and the bowler with a distinct mop of hair, a fast and furious run-up and a lethal swing that often rendered batsmen helpless even on Sharjah’s friendly pitches made Aaqib one of the heroes of this desert outpost.
Normally a quiet trier, he reserved some of his best against Indian batsmen. In October 1991, in the Wills Trophy final against India, the Pakistan pace line-up included Akram, Imran Khan and Waqar but it was Aaqib who rattled the rival batsmen. His career-best 7/37 included a hat-trick which broke India’s batting. Andall three – Ravi Shastri, Mohd Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar – were trapped leg before.
Aaqib, 41, back at his favourite hunting ground, vividly remembers that spell. “The ball was reversing. To Shastri, I bowled a few in-swingers to set him up. Imran, our captain, told me to go for the stumps. I bowled a fullish out-swinger on leg and middle and Shastri was squared up. Then I attacked Azhar’s off-stump with an in-swinger. I backed my instinct and bowled another swinging delivery to Tendulkar. We brought the field up to mount pressure on him. I bowled fullish and Sachin was beaten by the swing and missed the line.”
The spell is as special as the one against England in the 1992 World Cup final in Melbourne, where he opened the attack and took two wickets. But Sharjah lingers in the memory: “It doesn’t happen every day. It’s just one of those days when you feel your body and mind are a team, working in sync.”
And no India-Pakistan match is complete without the arch-rivals needling each other, as it happened in the Asia Cup in 1995. Sidhu wound up Aaqib. “Aaj nehin chalega tera” was followed by the choicest of Hindi expletives.
Aaqib hit back with a spell of 5/19. India, chasing 266, were dismissed for 169. “I went inside the Indian dressing room looking for Sidhu. I also gave back nicely, but it was all in good spirits. We had good fun.”
Sharjah is a home away from home for Pakistan, like India, thanks to all the expat fans. “Sharjah has given us such beautiful moments. They have been part of our bonding.”