Hat-tricks are a rare occurrence in cricket. They are about as likely to be conjured as the possibility of Sreesanth becoming a hermit after his recent fiasco.
They are actually a reflection of a bowler’s dominance over a batsman; indeed, the psychological hold that the fielding side secures over the opposition is difficult to break. At times, such magical displays infuse a down-and-out team with one last, desperate hope of victory, while there have also been instances where a team has taken a hat-trick, but still ended up on the losing side.
Darren Gough did the deed at the SCG during the 1998-99 Ashes series, producing a fiery display of swing and pace to send back three Australian lower-order batsmen. Sri Lankan slinger Lasith Malinga has achieved the distinction three times in ODI cricket, a feat about as rare as the occurrence itself.
Let’s take a look at five of the most famous of such displays in international cricket:
5. Chetan Sharma (India v/s New Zealand, 1987 World Cup)
The lanky, bearded Sharma had sent down five lacklustre overs against New Zealand in India’s last group game of the 1987 World Cup. The defending champions needed to win this game by a considerable margin in order to top their group and have a better run-rate than Australia.
Ken Rutherford had already settled down and was looking fairly solid out in the middle. If India had to restrict the Kiwis to a modest total, they needed to take quick wickets soon.
Skipper Kapil Dev tossed the ball to Chetan, aware of his uncanny knack for coming up with a sudden, unplayable delivery in between his ordinary stuff. The protégé did not disappoint his mentor.
Having bowled three dot balls, he suddenly produced a sharp in-dipper at a fast pace that belied his lazy approach to the bowling crease. Rutherford was beaten all ends up as the ball crashed into his stumps, ending his vigil at the wicket.
Sharma reproduced the same delivery on the next ball, and the dangerous Ian Smith had no clue about how to play it – losing his stumps in the process. The Nagpur crowd worked up a frenzy, buoyed by the double-strike. A hat-trick by an Indian – the first ever in World Cups – seemed on the cards.
Chetan, quite sensibly, had a long chat with Kapil, who advised him to keep it simple. He raced in and fired one into the block-hole, a little fuller, and Ewen Chatfield shuffled across too far, only to see his timber disturbed. The crowd erupted, the Indians were ecstatic, and New Zealand eventually finished with a total that India chased down superbly via a brilliant maiden ODI century from Sunil Gavaskar.
4. Chaminda Vaas (Sri Lanka v/s Bangladesh, 2003 World Cup)
Ask any Bangladesh player from the 2003 World Cup squad about Chaminda Vaas and they will respond with a vicious glare. For them, playing the Lankan spearhead’s searing deliveries at Pietermaritzburg was much more difficult than pronouncing his full name, but they would have preferred doing the latter to the former any day.
The veteran left-arm seamer, who had once entertained hopes of becoming a priest, instead played the Prince of Darkness to the hilt as he instigated a collapse within no time. Hannan Sarkar played all over a late in-dipper that rattled his timber without opening his account.
Mohammad Ashraful, finding himself in the middle sooner than expected, was the next to go – he popped a simple return catch to the bowler off a delivery that pitched short of a length. Two in two.
Ehsanul Haq, the next man, was surrounded by fielders as they closed in like vultures honing in on their prey. Understandably, Haq was quaking – whether from fear or nerves is still unclear. Vaas pitched the ball up, and the batsman just offered a tentative prod that took the outside edge of the bat and flew into Jayawardene’s hands at slip.
The hat-trick achieved, Vaas took off in celebration. Three wickets had fallen for no score, but the match was just three balls old. The experienced campaigner became the first cricketer to take a hat-trick off the first three legally-bowled deliveries in an ODI, and added three more to his kitty (one off the fifth ball of the game) as Sri Lanka romped to an easy win.
3. Irfan Pathan (India v/s Pakistan, Karachi Test, January 2006)
It was an amazing display of swing and control as India got off to the perfect start against Pakistan in the third Test at Karachi.
And they had a young left-arm pacer to thank – Baroda bowler Irfan Pathan, who came up with an almost-magical performance that belied his young age.
Salman Butt managed to keep his wicket intact for the first three deliveries of the match, as Pathan maintained a perfect line to the left-hander. But from the fourth ball onwards, it was mayhem at the top.
The left-hander poked at a delivery that was full and pitched on the off-stump; however, he misjudged the amount of late swing on the ball, and his attempted defensive push ended up in an outside edge that was snapped up by Dravid.
Younus Khan was also beaten by the late swing as the ball curved sharply into him, trapping him right in front of the stumps. He was replaced by Mohammad Yousuf, who had long been a thorn in India’s side, and took strike for the hat-trick ball.
The Indians moved in as Pathan ambled up to the crease, an extra spring in his step. He sent down a delivery that pitched outside off, Yousuf moved on to the front foot, but the ball swung back in sharply and removed the stumps. The Pakistan camp was stunned, the Indians overjoyed.
Sadly, despite these heroics, India ended up losing the game and the series, despite a gritty hundred from Yuvraj Singh in the second innings. Nevertheless, this over will go down as one of the finest in international cricket.
2. Harbhajan Singh (India v/s Australia, Eden Gardens, March 2001)
In many ways, this performance and the follow-on heroics set many benchmarks for the statistically inclined. But for one man, it was more than just that.
Harbhajan Singh, who had been picked in the side at the insistence of skipper Sourav Ganguly, had had a turbulent year. He was thrown out of the NCA in 2000 for indiscipline, and lost his father the same year. At an all-time low, the young off-spinner contemplated quitting cricket and moving to the US for a fresh start in order to support his family.
However, after Anil Kumble was injured prior to the 2001 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Ganguly publicly called for Harbhajan’s inclusion in the national squad. And, at Eden Gardens, the young bowler responded magnificently to the captain’s call.
Matthew Hayden hit the off-spinner out of the attack initially, using his feet cleverly against the turn. But Bhajji fought back hard, dismissing the Aussie opener before returning for another magical spell that reduced the visitors to more misery.
Ricky Ponting, who would later have many more confrontations with the Turbanator, was deceived by a straight ball and was caught right in front of the wicket. Next ball, the dangerous Gilchrist was struck on the pad by a delivery that kept low – the only dismissal that caused a certain amount of confusion – before Shane Warne clipped the third delivery to short leg where Sadagoppan Ramesh snapped up a clean catch; an agonizing wait later, he was given out, sparking major celebrations in the crowd.
In the process, Harbhajan became the first Indian to take a Test hat-trick, and took 13 wickets in that famous Test which India won after following-on, halting Australia’s winning streak and eventually taking the series 2-1. But more importantly, it resurrected the Punjab spinner’s international career, and he went on to achieve much more glory.
1. Wasim Akram (Pakistan v/s Australia, Austral-Asia Cup final, Sharjah, 1990)
The 24-year-old left-arm pacer had carved a special place for himself in cricketing history when he took his first ODI hat-trick against the West Indies at Sharjah in the Champions Trophy in 1989. But in the Austral-Asia Cup final, he added another golden chapter to his glittering career.
Australian pacer Carl Rackemann had rocked the Pakistan lineup with a fast and furious display of pace bowling, but Wasim produced a flurry of strokes to lift his side to a competitive total in their allotted 50 overs. His innings contained three massive sixes, two of which came off Simon O’Donnell.
During the chase, Australia settled into a nice rhythm with Boon and Mark Taylor looking ominous as they chipped away at the total. Waqar Younis then broke through with two quick wickets, while leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed wove a web of intrigue around the middle order, taking out three Aussies.However, Akram had been fairly quiet till he was called on to bowl his ninth over.
Ian Healy and Merv Hughes had taken the Australians closer to the target, when Wasim decided to come around the wicket to the latter. The big Australian fast bowler took a wild swing and missed the ball as it crashed into his stumps. Eight down, Australia still hadn’t thrown in the towel.
But the left-arm swing exponent fired in a length delivery that angled into Rackemann and uprooted his stumps, eluding his defensive prod. This would eventually become the ‘Delivery of the Day’.
Finally, with only one more to knock over, Akram sent down a nasty full delivery on Terry Alderman’s leg stump; the batsman had moved away from the stumps to loft the ball into the stands, but couldn’t bring his bat down in time, and the leg stump went for a walk.
In just three deliveries, Australia’s chase lay in tatters as the jubilant Pakistanis went on to lift the trophy they had won four years ago. Fittingly, Akram was chosen Man of the Match for his all-round exploits; he also became the first cricketer to take two hat-tricks in ODI cricket.