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'He could take a wicket at any stage of the game'
Part two: Alec Stewart picks the best bowlers he played against. Wasim Akram was one tough customer (00:00)
Producer: Ranjit Shinde
October 23, 2012
'He could take a wicket at any stage of the game'October 23, 2012
Wasim Akram - another champion of a bowler. With his left arm, straightaway it is a different angle, and he had the ability to bowl rapid - 95, 96, 97 miles an hour, I would guess. He could bowl over the wicket, he bowled round the wicket as well, he used to run up behind the umpire and at the last minute just jump out. So it was difficult to set yourself. It was a real challenge, and I enjoyed the challenge of playing against him.
With the new ball, he was quick anyway. He would swing the ball conventionally and he wasn't shy of bowling a bouncer. He also had a brilliant yorker, and that full-length ball as well. Once the ball was that little bit older... reverse swing has come into the game in recent times, and he was the finest exponent of reverse swing, along with his partner Waqar Younis. Wasim was brilliant.
Whenever I pick a World XI, he is always in it because of the ability he has to take a wicket at any stage of the game. With the new ball, with the batsman on nought, whether the batsman is on 200, he had the ability to still bowl him out. His angle, his pace, his speed, over the wicket, round the wicket, and he also had a very good cricket brain. So Wasim Akram, right up there with the very, very best.
Akram is the only left-armer in my list. Obviously there are more right-armers playing the game. The thing with the others is… Chaminda Vaas, for example, he was close to getting in because he got wickets all around the world. He was unlucky, missed out in my selection. But Wasim, as I say, the variety was quite outstanding.
There are two spells that stand out for me. One was a new-ball spell at Old Trafford in the 1992 series. We had about a half hour, 40 minutes to bat… might have been day one, if not day two. I opened the batting with Graham Gooch, and that was one of the quickest spells I've faced. Old Trafford, back then, was a quick pitch, and he came roaring in. We just about survived, took a few blows on the body. But that was real good, torrid quick bowling. He didn't want to hurt people, but it's part of being a quick bowler, and as a batsman you've got to take a few blows. He roughed you up, got you on the back foot, and then stuck the yorker in too. So that was a standout spell.
Then there was another game - Surrey v Lancashire, which were always good battles back then in the early '90s, two good sides. He suddenly got the ball to reverse swing and literally skittled the side out. It was at The Oval, and it was a one-day game. We were walking the game, Surrey, and then he came on and caused absolute havoc. They went on to win that game.
With the reverse swing, people say - do you read it, do you not read it, or whatever. Because I played a lot of cricket with Waqar Younis at Surrey, you understood reverse swing. Also, when you play against people regularly - I played against Wasim Akram a lot in county cricket - you almost get a feel as to how they are going to bowl. Though he would run up at times hiding the ball, as soon as he got into his delivery stride, a lot of the times I could pick which was the rough side and which was the smooth side. It gives you an advantage. Because I used to go back and across but deep in my crease, it gave me a fraction longer to pick the ball and try and react in time. Not easy, and there were times, I promise you, when you couldn't see it because he had hidden the ball well. But I would always be looking for the light side, dark side, rough side, smooth side, and to try and picture which way the ball was going to go.
The challenge of facing a left-arm bowler is angles, really. You generally play mostly against right-arm over bowlers, so you are lined up for the ball coming straight at you with slight away movement. And then with a left-armer, you have to open yourself up a little bit, because obviously he is coming from a different angle. All good left-armers have the ability to swing the ball back into you. So you have to make sure that your head doesn't fall across to the off side, which means your front foot may go too far across, you shut yourself off, ball swings back, hits you on the pad and then you are out lbw. You've got to make sure that you don't do that.
Also, good left-armers have the ability to go straight across you or swing it across you, which means you are lining up your off stump, and if you don't pick which way the ball is going, you may think it's coming back, so you start playing at it, it goes across you, finds the outside edge and you bring the keeper and the slip area into play.
That is why the game revolves around off stump. As a batsman, you've got to defend your stumps. It helps if you know which way it's going, and against Wasim, at times you didn't.
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