A stunning match-winner
There are several outstanding aspects to Wasim Akram's international career, right from its sheer longevity - almost 19 years - to the amount of success he had in Tests and ODIs, with new ball and with old, with the red variety and the white. He was pretty handy with the bat - you'd have to be if your highest Test score is 257 not out - but it's as a bowler of splendid and varied skills that Akram will be remembered.
Making his Test debut against New Zealand in the beginning of 1985, Akram needed just one match to make his mark: in his second Test, in Dunedin, he returned match figures of 10 for 128 and was named Man of the Match even though New Zealand won the thriller by two wickets.
That set a glorious Test career on its way, but the early years were, as you'd expect for an 18-year-old, somewhat erratic. Even so, there were enough promising performances to prove that Akram was the real deal. In Barbados three years later, Akram took seven wickets in heartbreaker that Pakistan lost, yet again, by two wickets. In his first five years, though, Akram only managed 94 wickets in 29 Tests - a modest average of 3.24 per match.
Akram's best years were about to come. In his first Test of 1990, against Australia in Melbourne, Akram took 11 for 160, and that haul triggered a sensational run that lasted through most of the next eight years. In 48 Tests from 1990 to the end of 1997, Akram averaged five wickets per match, and his average dropped to an outstanding 20.05, before his form finally tapered off in his last four years.
|Period||Tests||Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
|Till Dec 1989||29||94||28.18||65.9||5/ 1|
|Jan 1990 to Dec 1997||48||240||20.05||46.4||16/ 3|
|Jan 1998 onwards||27||80||28.96||66.0||4/ 1|
During that eight-year period from 1990 to 1997, Akram had the best figures in Test cricket, barring none. There were several legendary bowlers who were at the height of their craft during an era which we now look back on as a golden one for bowlers, especially the fast ones - Curtly Ambrose, Allan Donald, Waqar Younis and Glenn McGrath were all around, but Akram's stats stood out even among them. His average of 20.05 was better than anyone else's during this period (with a cut-off of 150 wickets); in terms of strike rate, only Waqar was ahead.
During these eight years, Akram was Man of the Match in 12 of the 48 Tests he played, an incredible average of one every four games. Eight of these were in overseas Tests, including the game in Melbourne and the next one in Adelaide, when he turned in an outstanding all-round performance, taking six wickets and scoring 52 and 123. At the time it was only the 12th instance of a player scoring 150 or more and taking six or more wickets in a Test.
|Bowler||Tests||Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
|Wasim Akram||48||240||20.05||46.4||16/ 3|
|Curtly Ambrose||57||247||20.50||52.8||17/ 3|
|Waqar Younis||46||232||21.23||40.1||19/ 4|
|Allan Donald||36||171||23.27||48.8||9/ 2|
|Glenn McGrath||36||164||23.42||53.0||9/ 0|
|Shane Warne||62||289||24.08||62.9||12/ 3|
Overall, he won 17 Man-of-the-Match and seven Man-of-the-Series awards, both of which are among the highest. Even better, his rate of winning these awards, one every six Tests, is the best among those who've won at least ten such prizes.
|Player||Tests||MoM awards||Tests per award|
Not surprisingly, Akram remains one of the most potent matchwinners in Tests for Pakistan. In the 41 wins that he was a part of, he took 211 wickets at an average which compares well with the best in the business.
|Bowler||Tests||Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
|Muttiah Muralitharan||53||430||16.03||42.6||40/ 18|
|Malcolm Marshall||43||254||16.78||38.1||17/ 4|
|Curtly Ambrose||44||229||16.86||44.4||13/ 3|
|Waqar Younis||39||222||18.20||35.0||14/ 4|
|Dennis Lillee||31||203||18.27||39.0||17/ 6|
|Shaun Pollock||49||223||18.30||47.5||9/ 1|
|Wasim Akram||41||211||18.48||42.3||13/ 2|
|Anil Kumble||43||288||18.75||44.4||20/ 5|
Like most fast bowlers from Pakistan, Akram too mastered the art of bowling grassless pitches, where reverse swing becomes a most potent weapon. He is one of only four bowlers to take more than 150 wickets in Pakistan, while in the three major subcontinent countries, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, his average was marginally better than his overall career average.
|Bowler||Tests||Wkts||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
|Imran Khan||51||205||20.28||48.8||12/ 3|
|Waqar Younis||41||191||21.07||39.2||13/ 4|
|Wasim Akram||57||211||22.67||52.9||11/ 1|
|Shoaib Akhtar||26||108||24.87||45.2||6/ 1|
|Javagal Srinath||35||116||26.43||55.0||6/ 1|
|Chaminda Vaas||71||230||27.54||62.4||6/ 1|
|Kapil Dev||86||279||29.01||59.8||14/ 2|
|Zaheer Khan||38||107||38.12||69.2||2/ 0|
Through most of his career, Akram formed a destructive fast-bowling combination with Waqar: in the 61 Tests they played together, Akram averaged 21.33, with 20 five-fors and four ten-wicket hauls; in the 43 Tests he played without Waqar, his averaged fell to 28.50, and he only managed five five-fors. His wickets per Tests too dropped to 3.07 per match, from 4.62 when the bowled with Waqar. Some of that was also because the periods he bowled without Waqar were also during the first and last parts of his career, when he wasn't at his most potent.
|Tests||Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
|With Waqar||61||282||21.33||49.2||20/ 4|
|Without Waqar||43||132||28.50||66.2||5/ 1|
Akram's ODI career was more even, and his stats stayed within a narrow band almost throughout. He announced himself in his third game, taking 5 for 21 against Australia in Melbourne - a haul that included Allan Border, Dean Jones and Kepler Wessels - during the World Championship of Cricket.
His best period, though, was between 1992 and 1997, when he had an economy rate of 3.76 and took 14 of his 23 hauls of four or more wickets. At the beginning of that period was the 1992 World Cup, in which Akram was an absolute star, taking 18 wickets at 18.77. The highlight was his 3 for 49 in the final, when he derailed England's run-chase with the wickets of Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis in successive balls. Even towards the end of his career he remained a significant threat with the ball, and became the first bowler to go past the 500-wicket mark.
|Period||Matches||Wickets||Average||Econ rate||4+ wkts|
|Till Dec 1991||107||143||23.97||3.84||5|
|Jan 1992 - Dec 1997||131||198||21.86||3.76||14|
|Jan 1998 onwards||118||161||25.17||4.09||4|
With 326 ODI wickets in wins, Akram is next only to Muralitharan in this regard. He's clearly one of the greatest matchwinners in ODIs, averaging less than 19 at a run rate of 3.70. Among bowlers with at least 150 wickets in wins, only four bowlers have a better average.
|Bowler||ODIs||Wickets||Average||Econ rate||4+ wkts|
Akram's genius and his ability to burst through batting line-ups is obvious from the fact that he has taken two hat-tricks in Tests and ODIs, the only bowler to do so. He finished with 22 Man-of-the-Match awards in ODIs, which isn't anywhere near Sachin Tendulkar's 61, but it's a significant number considering the fact that ODIs are usually dominated by batsmen. In fact, Akram and Shaun Pollock (who also has 22) have the highest number of awards among players whose major suit isn't batting.
And then there's the small matter of Akram the captain. In the 25 Tests in which he led Pakistan, they won 12 and lost eight, and his reign included a series win in England, and clinching the Asian Test Championship. His ODI record was impressive too: a win-loss ratio of 1.6, which is the joint-highest for any Pakistan captain who led in more than 50 games.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo.
(With inputs from Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan)