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Although sporting genius, Wasim Akram was mascot of cricket globalisation era

By Harsh Thakor* 

Since Independence India and Pakistan produced a galaxy of cricketing stars that permeated cricketing artistry of legendary heights. Amongst this bunch.Wasim Akram manifested pure cricketing genius to the greatest height.I speculate how India’s fortunes would have changed had partition not taken place and Wasim playing for India.
Wasim Akram explored realms untranscended in bowling wizardry, like a painter devising new art forms or a scientist experimenting. He simply re-defined the art of reverse swing, reversing the ball in and out. There were bowlers quicker, more accurate and with better records, but none equalled Wasim in an all-round package. He was more lethal with a new and old ball than any fast bowler ever.
Wasim could produce balls that were surreal, with his reverse swing, defying laws of bio mechanics He was simply the epitome of versatility, possessing a repertoire of six different deliveries within an over itself, disguising deliveries in the manner of chameleon. He would mix a bouncer, a slower ball, a leg cutter, an outswinger, a slower ball and an inswinging yorker, reminiscent of the variations in notes a Beethoven conjunto. His position of the seam was so directed during the release of the ball as if a poet likes a sculptor giving the final touches to a statue. The position of his non-bowling arm, the way his knee bended and then the perfect follow through looked as though God had gifted Wasim to the world of cricket.
In his early days he was a more than competent batsmen in his early days, shaping into a great all-rounder .Few left handers in his time struck the ball with such power and possessed such a stunning range of strokes.

International Career highlights

Wasim’s first flash of his skill was his 7-50 in first class game at home against New Zealand, on debut. In 1985 he came within a stone’s throw of taking Pakistan to test victory at Dunedin., when capturing 10 wickets at Dunedin in 1985,becoming the youngest fast bowler to have taken a 10 wicket haul in a test.
Against Australia in the 1985 Benson and Hedges World championship of cricket he ripped apart the top order, in a spell of 5-14, with almost all his victims castled –seam bowling at it’s classical height. At that the time the youngest ever to take 5 wickets in an ODI. His all-round performance of scoring 68 and taking 6-91 at Faisalabad against West Indies in 1986 turned game looking lost, into famous win.
In Bangalore in 1987 his successive dismissals of Shrikanth and Amarnath were masterpieces, which played an important role in Pakistan winning their first test series on Indian soil. Earlier he captured 5-96 out o total of 403 at Kolkata single-handedly bearing the mantle and also 4-60 at Ahmedabad.
In Barbados in 1988 capturing 7 wickets,Wasim looked fierier than even Marshall, literally pulling the wool out of the Caribbean batting. He cart wheeled Viv Richards’s stumps, which was a majestic sight. Sadly bad umpiring prevented Wasim from taking West Indies to their first ever test series win on Caribbean soil.
From 1989-90 to 1994-95 Wasim statistically surpassed every fast bowler in test cricket, in terms of bowling average, which was just scraping over 20, and highest haul of 240 wickets at a strike rate of around 43.
In Australia in 1989-90 he captured 17 scalps.For sheer skill to me no pace bowler equalled Akram's 6-62 and 5-98 bowling at Melbourne., blending movement, bounce and pace in perfect proportion. I can't forget his dismissals of David Boon, Steve, Waugh, Mark Taylor and Alan Border, who were either trapped in front, or caught behind. In the 2nd test at Adelaide he captured 5-100 and scored 123, resurrecting Pakistan from the grave to coming within inches of famous victory.
In a home series against West Indies in late 1990 Wasim captured 21 scalps at 14.91 illustrating phenomenal prowess on docile tracks. At Lahore,Wasim took 4 wickets of a mere 5 balls to terminate the West Indies innings.. The manner he dismissed Dujon, Bishop, Ambrose and Marshall, gave glimpses of a combing operation.
Wasim's dismissals of Alan Lamb and Chris Lewis in successive balls in Pakistan in the 1992 world cup in addition to breezy 33 , and hatrick in 1990 Australasia cup. final supplemented with a swashbuckling 50 , were one of ODI cricket’s finest all-round performances.
In England in 1992 never did a fast bowler blend pace and movement in England so effectively to tantalise a batsmen., as Wasim.After bowling with venom to take a five-for at Old Trafford before he saved his brilliant best for the decider at The Oval. His 6-67 on the first day placed English batsmen were in a trance with their batsmen experiencing sensation of a world seconds behind to the one Akram was bowling in., as though the game was pre-meditated.
The English press reacted with ignorance, accusing him and Waqar Younis of ball-tampering. Still the more judicious English coaches noted .that without that series, reverse swing may have never evolved into the art it has today.
All the men who have revolutionised bowling in the past have been spinners .Bowlers throughout history have bowled as fast as the Pakistani Pair, and other bowlers have achieved a similar amount of late swing, but never on a cricketing pitch have two bowlers obtained so much late movement through the air at such lightning pace and usually with the old ball. It is this factor that sets Wasim and Waqar apart from all other bowlers, who defied all past conventions. They comprised possibly the most lethal pace bowling pair in cricket’s history.
Their series statistics are impressive enough: nine games between them, in which they bowled 334.5, overs for 1,019 runs and 43 of the 71 wickets taken. They took a wicket every 46.72 balls. Furthermore, of the 43, 26 were bowled or lbw and 14 more caught in the arc from wicket-keeper to gully. There were five sensational collapses by England when, from positions of relative comfort, their batsmen were blown away like dust in gale by Wasim and Waqar with a ball well over fifty overs old.
In a one off test in New Zealand in 1993 at Hamilton Wasim with figures of 5-45 and in accomplice with Waqar ripped the heart of the Kiwi batting to snatch a famous win from the jaws of defeat. He captured 25 wickets in New Zealand in 1994.I doubt any pace man ever bowled better in New Zealand as Wasim in 1994, who scuttled batsmen, with a series of unplayable deliveries.
On the 1995-6 tour of Australia Wasim was ever economical averaging 19.50 with 14 scalps. He mesmerised West Indies at home in 1997 in 3 tests, averaging 17.29 with17 scalps. He claimed 2 test hatricks against Sri Lanka in successive matches in 1998, mesmerising their tail. In the final test at Antigua in 2000, he captured 11 scalps at expense of 110 runs, simply ripping the heart of the Calypso middle order, but dubious umpiring decisions denied Pakistan a win.
In 1999 in India at Madras he dislodged Rahul Dravid with reverse swing that almost defied the laws of bio mechanics, and played an instrumental role in Pakistan winning the Asian World Championship of cricket. in Kolkata.

Statistical Analysis

Overall in test cricket Wasim took 414 wickets in105 tests at 23.62 at a strike rate of 54.6, with 25 five wicket hauls. He scored 2898 runs at 22.64 with3 centuries. In ODI's Wasim was statistically the best ever with 502 scalps at an average of 23.52 with 23 4 wicket hauls. He scored at 3717 runs at 16.52.. In games won he averaged 18.86 with 326 scalps. and 18 ,4 wicket hauls.
Statistics did not convey his true merit, with around 10 bowlers having better test records. Wasim however, was a harder proposition to face, than any pace bowling ace He was also the best craftsman on the slow, subcontinent tracks. No bowler was ever more effective or penetrative at the death in ODI’s.The likes of Brian Lara, Jacque Kallis,VVS Laxman and Viv Richards rated Wasim the best pace bowler they ever faced. Alan Donald rated Wasim the most complete of all. Often his battles with the great Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara took spirit of competitiveness in sport to realms rarely transcended. . He illustrated that mere statistics could never completely do justice to the merit of a cricketer.
Wasim as a batsmen reached sublime heights when scoring 257 v Zimbabwe in 1995, including a record 12 sixes, to rescue his side from peril. .His 123 at Adelaide in 1989-90 was another classic.A test average of around 23 did scant justice to his reservoirs of talent.
Wasim stands out in the number of man of the match awards he has won which is 17, combined stats in test and ODI cricket ,25 five wicket hauls an four 10 wicket hauls, and large number of wickets in tests won,. He has a higher percentage of wickets in tests won than Hadlee or Imran, with 211 scalps out of his overall 414.In tests won he averaged 18.48. On dead sub-continent tracks he averaged around 22, which is remarkable. To his credit Wasim has four hat tricks in International Cricket, which is unequalled. Wasim had a superior record to Waqar Younus against the top teams like Australia, West Indies and England. He also enabled Pakistan to rank amongst the top test and ODI teams in his prime. No bowler was ever as effective in breaking the spine of the tail.
He won twelve of the 104 tests he captained his team and took them to runner up berth in the1999 world cup. Wasim also led Pakistan to a series win in England in 1996, and to their first ever victory in the triangular tournament in Australia in 1997,playing against West Indies and Australia.

Drawbacks

Possibly due to suffering from Diabetes, Wasim under-achieved and did not completely tap his true potential. Had he done so Wasim might have averaged close to 20 in test matches, and taken 500 wickets Wasim was a manifestation of how the most gifted artists could be temperamental and flawed.
Wasim did not have as many top order scalps as McGrath, Ambrose or Marshall. His best ever figures of 7-119 were not comparatively as good as the best fast bowlers and he captured 7 wickets only once in a test match. Wasim In bowling average he was superseded by Marshall, Ambrose, Mcgrath, Hadlee and Imran.and in strike rate by Waqar Younus,Dale Steyn and Dennis Lillee.Most of Wasim’s sensational spells were against the tail enders.
Wasim also did not win as many series against top teams like Imran, or even Hadlee,nor produced as many match-winning spells like Ambrose . Noteworthy that he was never successful in South Africa and failed in West Indies in 1993, in what was billed as the world test championship.Wasim lacked the determination of Lillee, Marshall, Mcgrath or Imran.
Wasim might have averaged close to 20 in test matches, and taken 500 wickets. had he done complete justice to is talent. In my opinion Wasim was a manifestation of how the most gifted artists could be temperamental and flawed.
Wasim was considerably let down by his fielders, who repeatedly dropped chances. He had the potential of emerging as one of cricket’s great allrounders but hardly concentrated on letting his batting flower.
I regret that Wasim as a skipper could not steer Pakistan to the top of the pedestal in International cricket as a skipper. Match-fixing controversies possibly plagued the unity of the Pakistan team in the 1999 world cup final, in a tournament where they were arguably the most talented side.
Unlike predecessor Imran Khan or even Mushtaq Muhammad earlier,Wasim could not leave Pakistan cricket into a cohesive, integrated force .Inner dissensions were always a feature in Pakistani cricket ,but now it virtually lost any effective binding force.Wasim’s individual brilliance could not knit Pakistan into the champion test or ODI team of his era ,inspite of Pakistan possibly possessing more glittering talent than any team in the world.

Evaluation

It is noteworthy that Wasim has won 53 votes for selection in an all-time test XI, ahead of any great fast bowler and chosen in ESPN all-time team. I back his selection as he could make more qualitative inroads into batting line up than any fast bowler ever. Personally I rank Wasim overall amongst the top dozen cricketers. Amongst left-handers I only rank Gary Sobers ahead as a cricketer. In pure game Wasim is to bowling what Lara was to department of batting.
For pure talent I rate only Gary Sobers ahead of Wasim, amongst cricketers. Amongst fast bowlers in pure test cricket I would rank Wasim in 6th place, behind Barnes, Marshall, Lillee McGrath and Hadlee.. However combining tests with ODI’s Wasim wins my vote as the best ever by a whisker from Glen Mcgrath.
Wasim's dismissal of Robert Croft in English County cricket and Rahul Dravid at Madras in 1999 could be preserved in a museum which manifested reverse swing in regions of divinty..
What fascinates me most was the manner Imran Khan exerted influence on Wasim to shape his career.

Personal Assessment

It is unfortunate that Wasim became the centre of match-fixing scandals after the 1999 world cup and faced ban from International cricket, which was subsequently repealed. Omar Qayum report had in July 1999 concluded that Pakistani cricketers were involved in match-fixing.Regretfuly he also was part of cocaine scandal in West Indies in 1993.Inner team skirmishes plagued Pakistan cricket in his day. I would place both the ball tampering and match-fixing scandal under a microscope.
Wasim repeatedly declared that it is his duty to guide any young aspiring fast bowler that approaches him for advice irrespective of his ethnicity or nationality. Time and again helped Indian fast bowlers.
Although a sporting genius Wasim was a mascot of the era of globalisation which had a profound influence of turning cricket into a billion dollar business through crass commercialism. It bred spirit of dissent, lure for money and killed the spirit of sportsmanship. As a coach Wasim sold himself to lucration of IPL.
Wasim’s era also witnessed Indo-Pak rivalry at a helm, with matches virtually turned into wars. The lure of money could make cricketers virtually sell themselves, succumbing to all kinds of temptations, from the 1990’s.Sad that a maestro like Wasim could not be an epitome of sportsmanship but was manifestation of the bitter India-Pakistan rivalry that promoted nation chauvinism.
Wasim could not exude the spirit of sportsmanship of past left-handed legends like Sir Garfield Sobers, Bishen Bedi or Adam Gilchrist.
---
*Freelance journalist who has extensively studied cricket

Comments

Detailed study of Wasim Akram, arguably the greatest left-arm paceman ever. The one who comes closest to him is the Australian Alan Davidson. The author has made a diligent effort to bring out every facet of Wasim Akram, the man and the cricketer. Interesting write-up.

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