June 7, 2009

Saad Shafqat

Great with the ball, not quite with the mike

Saad Shafqat
Muttiah Muralitharan accepts the best Asian Test bowler in 2007 award from Wasim Akram, Castrol Asian cricket awards, Karachi, June 27, 2008
 © AFP
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Wasim Akram was capable of bowling a truly nasty bouncer. Every now and then he would unleash it, targeting the center of the throat or the spot on the forehead right between the eyes. Even the most competent batsmen have acknowledged that there was no getting away from it. Like a guided missile, it just kept coming at you relentlessly.

Akram has now left the bowling crease and planted himself behind the commentator’s mike. One notes with a certain resignation that his commentary is not as penetrating or targeted as his bowling. I say ‘resignation’ and not disappointment, because it is impossible for Akram to disappoint. Even if he said nothing and just sat behind the mike and every so often we saw him smiling, that would make our day. Why? Because he’s Wasim Akram, that’s why.

Still, it would be pleasing and fitting if Akram’s commentary career carried some of the same zest and punch as his cricket career. In cricket, he moved the ball around as if he had it on a string and, when the mood was right, hit it miles with the bat. In contrast, his commentary seems the equivalent of gentle long hops delivered with an unmotivated, burdensome action.

To be fair, occasionally he will indeed say something quite insightful. He’ll scan the field and recommend an adjustment that leaves you fascinated. He will also occasionally entertain, saying something dismissive or curt in his signature Lahori drawl. More often, though, he shies from opinion and analysis and just passes on trivialities.

Of the three Pakistani ex-players currently on the international commentary circuit – Rameez Raja, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram – Akram’s persona behind the mike is the most jarring and anomalous. Rameez’s commentary is pleasant and agreeable, more or less like his batting career. Waqar started out awkwardly as a commentator but somewhere along the way found his inner focus to deliver fluent and polished commentary peppered with zingers.

Even though Akram has been doing this for a while, he still seems an inhibited soul. It doesn’t help that he often gets partnered with Harsha Bhogle, a voluble man whose theoretical command of cricket is incisive as well as encyclopedic. This contrast with a more natural commentator makes Akram look even worse.

There is more to Wasim Akram than this. All of us who have followed his career and kept track of all the news he has generated and continues to generate, sense deep down that there is a far more interesting commentator in him yearning to break through. This inner commentator is more talkative, witty and opinionated. He is free of reserve and self-consciousness.

One possibility is that Akram isn’t adequately engaged in the commentator’s role, that he isn’t trying hard enough. The truth, I feel, is the reverse – he’s trying too hard. He’s not being himself. Someone needs to tell him to loosen up. Perhaps he’s been coached. If so, whoever has coached him has done him a disservice.

Unlike out in the middle, where there was a captain like Imran Khan to get the best out of him, behind the mike Akram is alone. Only he can pull himself out of this rut. He should get the sense of being in the spotlight out of his head and imagine he’s in a drawing room watching cricket on TV surrounded by friends. Wasim Akram was always at his best on the pitch when he let his natural flair and aggression come through. The commentators’ box is no different.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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Posted by blogs.espncricinfo.com on (May 23, 2011, 12:13 GMT)

Great_with_the_ball_not_quite.. Outstanding :)

Posted by Shuja ur Rehman on (June 26, 2009, 10:21 GMT)

No offenses, but seriously Akram is so horrible and biased commentator that i feel sorry for the person of his stature.Certainly he knows In and Out of cricket but I find his predictions and assessment weird.

Posted by Abdul Ala on (June 25, 2009, 18:57 GMT)

Good player can't be good behind the mic but about W.Akram he not only good he is great living legend.Folks we all wanna enjoy good cricket is nothing to do with the voice or who and how thing are said but belive me if someone like Akram comments...can't ask more.But still its his early days one things is sure as he used to use new and old ball ...he will be great commentrator.

Posted by Saad on (June 23, 2009, 18:30 GMT)

I think what Wasim lacks is a presence of mind in his commentary more than anything else. Most of the time he does not know whats going on and has to correct himself every now and then. His command on the English language is not really the best. I personally like the commentary of Nasser Hussain, Geoffery Boycott and Ramiz Raja. Ramiz is very good and blunt sometimes. I like when he said, "Its impossible to shut up an Aussie". LOL. That was hilarious coming from him during the one day series in dubai. Probably, was talking about the cocky attitude and a bit of an air the Aussies have about them, even when they are defeated.

Posted by Khurram on (June 17, 2009, 7:30 GMT)

I think, its more of a fault of the TV channel management. Wasim Akram should play the role of 'expert' in the commentary box, and not that of the active cheerleading commentrator - thats where he is at his best. He was very good when he used to act as an expert - he looked natural and confident. But in this T20 cup, they use him as the main running commentrator, and of course - Wasim is not a cheer leader - he is an expert.

Posted by Vikram Maingi on (June 17, 2009, 5:39 GMT)

Akram might not be a good commentator, but is certainly a very good expert commentator

Posted by Minhaj Ahmed on (June 12, 2009, 5:58 GMT)

Wasim Akram was one of the finest fast bowlers the cricket world has ever seen. He was deadly accurate in his bowling. Now it is true that not everyone shines in every field. His commentating may not be as lethal as his bowling was but he is still the best.

Posted by Mansoor on (June 8, 2009, 14:21 GMT)

Well i agree with the author. He is giving an honest opinion and this doesn't have to do anything with Wasim Akram being a legend or being liked by the south Asian community.

Posted by Muhammad Sohail on (June 8, 2009, 14:09 GMT)

All praise for Wasim bhai as a cricketer, but keeping our love for his genius aside I would say his commentary most of the times makes no sense really, its something very natural like Mark Nicholas of Australia, your comments may add something extra to what you watch on the screen than keep repeating the scores and wickets.

Posted by hari krishna on (June 8, 2009, 14:07 GMT)

I think it is unfair to judge Akram through his comentary alone.Akram is a thorough gentleman and i am sure any person listening to the comentary will very well appreciate what he comments about,He was not born as a commentator and i doubt anyone will see such a fantastic bowler in the near future and i am sure he will definitely make inroads as a great commentator which he already is

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