Wasim Akram November 7, 2008

The sorcerer

His deception and the ability to test every part of a batsman's game made Wasim Akram truly great

The left arm of God © Getty Images

Wasim Akram was the master swing bowler of the modern era. With Waqar Younis he formed one of the most lethal fast-bowling partnerships in the history of the game. When Wasim and Waqar were in their pomp during the mid-1990s they were a formidable force, decimating batting line-ups, and making Pakistan one of the world's best teams.

Wasim provided a finesse in his bowling that was rare in fast bowlers. Waqar, the perfect foil, pounded in to bowl fast and furiously. He also had great skill, but Wasim was the magician when it came to deception.

I only played against Wasim on a handful of occasions at the tail-end of his career. The first time was in the Champions Trophy in Kenya. He bowled just one delivery at me - a fast, skiddy bouncer that I ducked under. The next time was in Sharjah, where he uprooted my stumps with a vicious, swinging yorker with the new ball. The only time I prospered was in an innings in Morocco, back in 2002. During those brief encounters I discovered first-hand just why the world's great batsmen, the Tendulkars, Laras, de Silvas and Jayasuriyas, spoke of Wasim with such awe and respect.

Wasim was probably the most skilful and deceptive fast bowler I have watched. Nothing was ever the same twice in a row. He tested every single part of your game as a batsman, probing away for chinks in your technique.

He would seem to be rushing towards you at the end of his run-up. He had great balance and a quick arm action, coupled with very strong shoulders, and had the ability to bowl deliveries that could be anywhere between 120 and 145kph with no discernible change in his action. This rapid change in pace from one delivery to the next was lethal.

Long before I seriously thought about a future career in cricket, I remember watching two of the most unforgettable deliveries ever, in the final of the 1992 World Cup. England were chasing 249 for victory and going well on 141 for 4 when Wasim came back for a mid-innings spell.

The first ball was the one round the wicket to Allan Lamb, England's match-winner during that period. The ball seemed to swing into the batsman, only to nip away at the last minute and take his off stump. It was a wicked, unplayable delivery. The next was perhaps even better, swinging about two feet to bowl Chris Lewis first ball. Lewis looked dumbfounded.

These deliveries were produced in the middle of the innings with the old ball. It was this unmatched ability to reverse-swing the ball that was Wasim's hallmark. It was an ability that was dogged by controversy, with many accusations around the world that reverse swing was the product of ball-tampering. I think these controversies took the focus away from what was a supreme skill.

Fast bowlers need to be able to bowl on any wickets with a ball that's in any condition. That is the true test of a bowler's skill. Wasim was able to do that. Flat pitches, slow pitches, quick pitches - he was an ever-present threat on them all. Some quick bowlers thrive only when the pitch has zest and lift; not Wasim.

I remember being on tour in Bangladesh when Wasim was a TV commentator. We invited him to share the secrets of reverse swing with our team. He was happy to do so. Indeed, he was always obliging and quick to share his vast knowledge and experience with us and other fellow cricketers.

Wasim was probably the most skilful and deceptive fast bowler I have watched. Nothing was ever the same twice in a row

He told us how the fielders and the bowlers needed to take the utmost care to prevent any moisture touching one side of the ball, so it could become rough, while keeping the other shined and smooth. He then explained in detail the complexities of wrist position, arm speed, and angles. It was fascinating.

Wasim's cricket career was not always smooth. When he was captain, there seemed to be regular rumours of dissatisfaction within the team. Pakistan has historically been a team that has always suffered from partisanship and power struggles, and captains of Pakistan have always needed to be very strong mentally to be able to withstand the pressures of leading a hugely talented but sometimes temperamental side. Talks of petitions being signed against the captain, of the captaincy changing hands, were a constant reality for Wasim when he was in charge.

Yet, for all this pressure and the nasty off-field politicking, it's a testament to his strength of character and his zest for the game that he still became a true legend of the sport; a man who could make the cricket ball talk; a man who was a lethal bowler at every stage of his career, and who would still be so if he decided to pick up a ball today. He played the game hard and with skill, lived life fully, and let his skill rise above petty controversies and squabbles.

If I were given the opportunity to challenge my skill as a batsman by picking bowlers from history whom to face, Wasim would be an automatic choice. Perhaps the greatest tribute you can pay him is that in the current era of fast bowlers there is no one who can be judged to be in the same class. He was a once-in-a-generation cricketer who lifted fast bowling to new levels, and helped carry Pakistan to the top of world cricket. A true legend.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vivek on November 9, 2008, 16:55 GMT

    A wholly earned tribute. One admired his skills as much as one pitied the poor bastman. Unfortunately, the English media has followed the motto-"If they can do things we cannot, then they must be cheating." The Pakistanis brought pioneering ball skills, as has been rightly acknowledged by legends like Lilee and Thompson, and brandished as cheating by mediocre England and the Darell Hairs. This although the only convincing case of ball tampering was Michael Atherton at Lords against SA with his "Alladin trick". Now that Troy Cooley has taught them how to reverse swing, there's no talk of ball tampering.

    The Akrams and Warnes and Muralitharans are masters who can make the ball talk under all conditions, and one hopes for more, and also hopes that there will be less talk of subcontinental teams winning at home only because of the pitches. Cricket is a surface game and good teams need to win on all surfaces. So instead of complaining, they had better produce more Akrams !!!

  • TMAK on November 9, 2008, 12:53 GMT

    Truly well-written Sanga! This is what a great sportsman can write about another great sportsman! Wasim was truly a sensation. To me, his best was when he was bowling in the first test in India after so long and the delivery that got Dravid and Tendulkar out. They were supreme examples of swing and control. A magnificent swing sultan and truly the best left arm fast bowler in the history of cricket! Keep it coming Sanga!

  • Syed on November 9, 2008, 11:07 GMT

    People may think I am exaggerating but his action packed bowling was full of Thrill, drama and suspense. I always anxiously watched his expressions and tried to read his lips during matches. You can never be sure what is coming next during his spell. He used to become lethal if bothered by the wrong umpiring decisions like it happened in Australian tour after world cup 99. He was the best and will remain unmatched because there is no one in the same league. Cricket is no more that exciting after he left. I wish we can have him as a bowling coach for Pakistan to see some hints of him in our new generation.

  • Faisal on November 8, 2008, 20:19 GMT

    It was summer of 1985. a local tournament was held on a cement pitch in Samanabad Lahore. All the bowlers, including Qadir and Mohsin Lamal were taken to cleaners, because on the cement pitch the ball never moves and comes straight at you with speed, with good timing batsman can just butcher the bowler. So in the final, we heard Akram was coming to play from the shining club. The ground was all packed, with me sitting on the boundary line with my cousins. The ball was given to Wasim and he had midpitch talk to the keeper, here is the conversation that still remains in my brain, "Wasim : meri gaind phar layenga?" (Will you be able to keep to my bowling?") "Keeper: koshish karanga" ( I will try,) "Wasim: Chal pichhee chalaa ja, boundary te?" (just go back to the boundary line)

    We were in shock and awe to see his bowling, no batsmen had any clue to play him on that cement pitch. One ball hit the edge and went to six flying over the keepers head. No one was able to hit him.

  • Khurram on November 8, 2008, 19:13 GMT

    I guess we can take pride in the fact that we saw the whole era of Wasim and Waqar. With 20/20 cricket and balls changing in 34th over, I doubt we will ever see such sheer quality of fast bowling ever again...

  • Ramesh on November 8, 2008, 17:30 GMT

    i being an indian, admire Wasim Akram for his sheer ability of bowling amazing outswingers and inswingers with no much difference in the style. For me he is the best. when he was bowling, it was sure that something gonna happen. i would pay to watch his bowling just as much as much to watch tendulkar batting.

  • usman on November 8, 2008, 16:36 GMT

    In terms of variety and guile, Wasim has to be the greatest bowler of all-time along with Warne. In pure aesthetic terms, his bowling enchantment is unparalleled. The most devastating I've seen him bowl was in tandem with Waqar in a Test in NZ when the pair bowled unchanged in the fourth innings of the match with the opposition requiring just over a 100 for a win, charging in with lethal armory to knock over the whole Kiwi line-up in a matter of just over two hours - simply awesome.

  • Abdul Wakeel on November 8, 2008, 16:02 GMT

    i m sure of one thing, its only because of Wasim Akram tht millions in pakistan watch cricket today...and millions have left watching it because he has left playing..no doubt he was the biggest asset for Pakistan cricket and a cricketer like him is born once!! only once..people today can hope to see a bowler a bit like wasim but no one can match standards that wasim has..and i am only one of his die-hard fans.thanks Wasim Akram from bring passion to this game.

  • vinay on November 8, 2008, 14:28 GMT

    I think he is one of Pakistan cricketers who has got more fan following in India. People in India love him and for many aspiring Indian bowlers, he is GOD. A simple action, a strong wrist position, deceptive pace , toe crushing yorkers, the unplayable reverses and a great cricketing brain makes him my favorite bowler!!

  • Asim on November 8, 2008, 12:55 GMT

    Great article, Well what can we say for a bowler like Wasim. Greates fast bowler the world has ever seen, King of Swing, Big Daddy of all when it come to reverse swing. He has bowled many magic deliveries, wew guys only remember the ones of which he has taken wickets. To me one of his many great deliveries was yorker which he bowled to Robert Croft it almost swung twice, umpire gave it not out. Has 4 hat tricks at international level. It was apure pleasure to watch him bowl. Any wickets any conditions he was always a great threat thats what made him great. When people say that he his the best left armer of all time they are not doing justice he is the best of all time.Once Allan border said he would like to be reborn as wasim akram. Legends like viv and lara rated him very highly. What a magician what a bowler aaaaaaaah! and a great striker of the bowl with a highest score of 257* what a talent truely the greatest.

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