It is 11am the morning after Pakistan's elimination, and Wahab Riaz is watching his spell to Shane Watson on television in his room at the Intercontinental Hotel. Was that really him? Bleary-eyed and unfailingly courteous, this Wahab seems totally at odds with the warlike Wahab who charged through David Warner, Michael Clarke and so nearly Watson.

The room is scattered with the detritus of the cricketer overseas, a half-packed equipment bag at its centre. Hours before, he was running through to the batsman's end of the pitch, clapping exhortations to his team-mates, eyeballing Watson and blowing the odd crazed kiss. Now Wahab is articulate and calm.

Barring three things, last night could have been a dream and Wahab any man. They are his phone, buzzing incessantly; the television, confirming it all happened; and his eyes, which are still a little red. In the minutes after Australia completed Pakistan's elimination, Wahab shed tears of pain, and the traces of hurt are still there. "I'm not feeling good," he says softly. "We lost the game, so it's heartbreaking."

But once the pain of defeat subsides, the memories of his bowling will remain. Not only was it a performance that instantly made him one of the game's most distinctive figures, it was a suggestion he has it in him to be a worthy figure in Pakistan's rich pace bowling lineage. As a six-year-old, Wahab watched Wasim Akram at the 1992 World Cup and decided that he would be a left-arm fast bowler. As a man, he is watching himself put on a show very nearly as memorable as Wasim's 23 years before.

"We have a lot of legends," Wahab says. "Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, these guys were the greats. Shoaib Akhtar was one of the best bowlers as well in the world.

"The guy who really inspired me was Wasim Akram. I was a very young boy when I watched the 1992 World Cup, and when I saw him bowling I loved to copy because I was left-handed too. I want to be someone like Wasim Akram in my life and he really inspired me."

Wasim got angry occasionally, and batsmen felt the force of his fiery bouncers almost as often as the crunch of swinging toe-crushers. Other fast men of his vintage were stung into action by slights, real or perceived. Curtly Ambrose found an extra yard when Dean Jones asked for his white wristband to be removed during a World Series final in 1993. A year later Devon Malcolm was floored by a bouncer from Fanie de Villiers, who then mouthed the words "You guys are history." Wahab was similarly stirred, by exchanges that were mild enough to be recounted but edgy enough to get him going.

Pakistan's innings was not going well after a series of poor decisions by their batsmen. By the time Wahab was scrounging 16 runs in an effort to scrape to a defendable score, three of his team-mates had picked out Aaron Finch at deep midwicket. If that wasn't frustrating enough, the Australians could not help pointing out how difficult he was finding it to connect bat with ball. Mitchell Starc spoke first.

"Starc said something to me. He was bowling well and it was difficult for me to play him," Wahab says. "But in the end he exchanged a few words and I got really angry. I tried to answer him back, and then Shane Watson said to me, 'You don't have the bat in your hand.' They were trying to put pressure on me by their words, but once Watson said that, I said, 'It's time to pay back now.' When I am bowling I will try to bowl something which really frustrates them and puts them under pressure."

This was always the plan anyway, for under Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's bowlers were better at being aggressors rather than defenders. For one, they seldom had many runs in the bank. For two, the Cup's playing conditions made containment about as manageable as putting toothpaste back into a tube. Wahab had struggled at times in the past with a support bowling commission, while a ledger of only eight Test matches in five years indicates he is best at full tilt or not at all.

"When I started I was really, really a medium-pace bowler, very slow"

"For bowlers it is quite difficult because of the rules and regulations nowadays," Wahab says. "But Misbah was quite keen that with the kind of pace battery he has got, he should be attacking all the teams. When the captain is asking you to attack, it's a very supportive thing for you because then you can give everything whether you go for runs or the batsman defends you. When the captain says, 'Just go and attack', that's what every bowler wants.

"We had a chat in the lunch break. Because we had the belief after we got South Africa out for 202, we bowled out Zimbabwe chasing 235 as well. We had confidence in our bowling attack, so it was all just go out. The plan was to attack them. Give 100%, play bravely and just try your level best."

Wahab's best had not always been quite so eye-catching. The son of one of Lahore's wealthier families, his early efforts as a fast bowler were anything but deserving of the name. Where the likes of Waqar, Aqib Javed and Mohammad Amir excelled even as teenagers, Wahab was initially the very model of the modest medium-pacer. He can remember being logged as bowling around 110kph as a 17-year-old. Pace came gradually, as it did for Ryan Harris.

"When I started I was really, really a medium-pace bowler, very slow," Wahab says. "But Aqib Javed worked on me. He always said, 'If you don't bowl fast, you can't be a fast bowler.' So he really pushed me, made me work hard for six, seven years and then I started to bowl fast. You start enjoying it when you bowl fast, and suddenly when I was bowling fast, I always tried to bowl fast.

"I didn't know where I was bowling, but I just tried to bowl fast. That's how I developed my pace. I might have been like 110-112kph when I started my career in Under-17 and Under-19. Aqib knew what I was and he had a big role to play in my career; to make me play for Pakistan because he worked a lot on me. At times he took his hand off and said, 'I cannot work with you', but he never gave up on me."

Heads turned when Wahab made his Test debut against England in 2010, plucking five wickets and generating decent speed. But his place in the team wasn't certain, with numerous others jockeying for position as pacemen. Then there was the fact that Pakistan, through Saeed Ajmal, relied more on spin for success, most notably in the UAE.

"I have been playing for Pakistan for a long time and we have a lot of competition between us. There are a lot of good bowlers, so it's really a very healthy competition and it really pushes you up to show what you are and what you have in you," Wahab says. "Coming to this World Cup and finding your form at the right time, you always feel the presence of the bowlers who lead from the front."

The loss of Junaid Khan to injury firmed up Wahab's place in the plans for 2015. This helped, as did the prevailing pitch conditions. It is no surprise that his most striking displays arrived via Brisbane's bounce, Auckland's seam and Adelaide's combination of both. "I have worked hard, but this World Cup it really worked very well. It might be the wickets, it might be the conditions.

"The management has worked hard with me, particularly Mushtaq Ahmed and Waqar, they have really worked hard and backed me up. They had belief in me and my skills, they made me work hard and supported me. This is something different for me as well, because I think you need that support from the management and the captain. Because of working hard is how I've got what I have right now."

So it was that Wahab walked out to bowl, in his customary first-change position, with the full backing of his team. They had faced him at home and in the nets. They knew how quick he could be.

Warner found that out in Wahab's first over, unable to ride the bounce of a short ball that flew into the hands of Rahat Ali at third man. In his second, a flinching Clarke deflected to short leg. Watson walked to the crease expecting pressure, but nothing quite like the assault that followed.

Wahab had been waiting for this all innings.

"What he [Watson] said was in my mind and when he came to bat I was just thinking I'm going to give him something really special, and then I went up to him saying that 'I think you forgot your bat back in the dressing room too.'"

In the following overs, Watson used his bat as much for self-preservation as attack, and when he did uncoil a pull shot it was a hurried top edge that swirled towards fine leg. So cool when he had pouched Warner, Rahat's hands suddenly became glaringly and damagingly porous. As the chance went down and the crowd gasped, Wahab spun around in the most intense burst of anger. Instinctively, it felt like the exhilaration he had generated would be remembered without the accompanying ecstasy of victory.

"It was just the heat of the moment," he says of that painful instant. "I was working hard. No one drops catches on purpose, but that was a crucial time because they might be 80 for 4 and then Glenn Maxwell coming in under pressure… You don't know, we might have won. But regardless, he tried his level best and it's all right."

After six overs, Wahab was spelled by Misbah. Some observers suggested he was tiring, but Wahab responds he is used to longer stints, and could have continued. Either way, by the time he returned, the game had been swung staunchly towards Australia. Watson, previously implacable in the face of Wahab's histrionics, found his voice again when he found the strokes to back it up. It seems ludicrous to think the Cup's most memorable confrontation would result in a fine for the two combatants.

"He was just looking at me, he didn't answer me at all," Wahab says of Watson's initial reaction. "In the last over, when he hit me for a four and a six, then he said something. I told him, 'It's too late, buddy.'"

Too late indeed. Too late to change the fact that the earlier spell will not be forgotten, and too late to stop Wahab from making an indelible mark on this tournament and the game.

"It's a game of confidence, a game of boosting yourself," he says of the future. "I always trusted my ability and I think it's a very good opportunity for me now to grab this for a long time. I'm trying to get more and more, and I want to do that every other game now."

With that, it is time to leave the room. The television has moved on to other highlights, and Wahab must move back to the tedious task of packing that cricket bag. One last question, though. Do you think anyone will dare sledge you again when you're batting? Wahab smiles.

"I don't know if someone will say stuff. But if they do, they will get the same as what I gave yesterday. As simple as that."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig