Fast bowlers May 10, 2010

Strike fear with three

Fast bowling has been Pakistan's trump card, their national obsession, and a resource they have never been short of. Which men make it to the final XI?

The one constant in Pakistan cricket, from start to now, through the good days, the bad, the controversies, the scandals, the fights, revolts and madness has been the ability to produce fast bowlers the rest of the world envies.

Pace bowling is a national obsession. Wanting to bowl quick, to hit stumps or hit batsmen is as much a part of growing up in Pakistan as anything and it has been that way since at least the mid-70s. Even before that, with men such as Fazal Mahmood, Khan Mohammad and Mahmood Hussain, Pakistan was never short of a quality fast-bowling options.

Few countries have as rich a tradition of pace bowling as Pakistan; of the 14 fast bowlers who have taken over 350 Test wickets, only the West Indies has as many representatives as Pakistan (three). And unlike the West Indies, Pakistan has benefited from a great variety in its fast-bowling ranks.

There have been the super-quick, men such as Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Zahid. There have been the super-quick and ultra-rounded, like Imran Khan and Wasim Akram. And there have also been the not-so-quick, but very smart: Fazal, Sarfraz Nawaz, and from the modern vintage, Mohammad Asif. In reverse swing, they have also given the world the most significant fast-bowling innovation of the modern age. They are mostly the reason why Pakistan have won nearly a third of all their Tests and more or less a quarter of away Tests.

Most Pakistan XIs have used three fast bowlers and thrown a spinner into the mix. But an all-time XI can benefit from greater options, especially as Imran Khan provides such flexibility as an allrounder.

The contenders

Wasim Akram
The greatest left-arm bowler of all time and among the very greatest of any kind, ever. Akram had everything you could ask for in a fast bowler: pace, swing and cut, brains, brawn. Imran Khan said he was the most naturally gifted bowler he had seen and who are we to argue? Akram was a good enough batsman as well to be considered an allrounder. He remains Pakistan's leading Test wicket-taker, the only one with over 400 victims.

Imran Khan
Imran transformed himself from a middling medium-pacer to one of the foremost, most complete fast bowlers the world has seen. At his peak, in the late 70s and early 80s, he was also one of the quickest. He reverse-swung the old ball viciously, bent the new one like a banana, and in his youth, happily and successfully engaged in the bouncer wars of the era. He also had the most athletic, awe-inspiring action to boot. His 12-wicket haul in Sydney in 1976 arguably changed the face of Pakistan fast bowling and cricket forever.

Waqar Younis
Few fast bowlers around the world have been capable of as much instant destruction as Waqar. When he burst onto the scene in the early 90s, he was the quickest bowler around and reverse-swung the ball with greater effect than even Imran and Wasim. Proof of his destructive qualities lies in the remarkable statistic that no bowler with over 200 Test wickets has a better strike rate than him; once he got going, at his peak, he was difficult to stop. The majority of his wickets were bowled or leg-before. Even after losing his pace, he transformed himself into a very good new-ball bowler.

Fazal Mahmood The spiritual father of all Pakistan's pace bowling, Fazal was responsible for all of the country's earliest, greatest triumphs. He wasn't quick, but he had a truckload of stamina, unrelenting accuracy and a vicious legcutter. On matting wickets, or rain-affected surfaces, he could be unplayable. In key triumphs against India, England, West Indies and Australia, he took 12 or more wickets to help put Pakistan on the map. He was also impossibly handsome.

Sarfraz Nawaz
Sarfraz is the father of modern-day reverse swing and was one of the smartest bowlers Pakistan has produced. He didn't have the pace of an Imran or a Waqar, but his nous with the new ball was enough to see him through. He was an essential part of Pakistan's advance in the 70s, forming a very formidable new-ball pair with Imran, and always had the attitude of an out-and-out quick: he was easily drawn into bouncer wars. He remains a vastly underrated link in the chain that joins Fazal to the modern-day greats.

Shoaib Akhtar
Though his career has been ravaged by injuries and scandal, on good days Shoaib could be as dangerous as any modern-day fast bowler. He was always frighteningly quick, but as he got older, he also became much smarter with the ball. He swung the new ball out and brought the old one back in and developed, late in the day, an excellent loopy slower ball.

We'll be publishing an all-time Pakistan XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your fast bowlers click here

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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