Great with the ball, not quite with the mike
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