In our series "My Favourite Cricketer", Balanced Sports and World Cricket Watch invite the best cricket writers and bloggers to contribute articles explaining what makes, for the, one player rise above the rest. Today features Wasim Akram by World Cricket Watch's contributing editor, Blaise Murphet.
I think when you’re asked to consider your ‘favourite cricketer’ you don’t really think about statistics, you think of a players swagger, his style, and of amazing performances that you have witnessed either on television or first hand.
|Bowling in England. From: wasimakramlive.net|
So, when thinking of the ultimate fast bowler, a natural checklist emerges in one’s mind. Does he have searing pace? Can he make the ball ‘talk’? Does he have long hair that flows in the wind? What about the maniacal smile that is the trademark of all the greats? Well, in my mind there is only one man who fits the bill and that is the greatest Pakistani player of all time, Wasim Akram.
In an international career that spanned almost twenty years, Akram tormented batsmen right across the globe. But, before I talk more about the unbelievable greatness of the man, let’s cast a quick eye over his outstanding career statistics.
Currently placed ninth on the all-time test wicket list, Wasim’s 414 test wickets obviously rank him right up there with the greats. These wickets, I might add, came at an average of 23, and I’d confidently suggest that his almost 3000 test runs at 22 would be far better than any others at the top of the bowling lists. If he’s test record isn’t enough, then just consider his ODI record. World Cup winner, 502 wickets at 23 and a powerful lower-order batsman, Wasim had it all. However, as I’ve argued before, averages and statistics only tell a very small part of a cricketer’s story, and in the case of Wasim Akram, this couldn’t be more true.
If you will allow me then to return to the checklist I mentioned earlier, we can further consider the greatness of Wasim.
There is no doubt that Wasim’s partners in crime, Imran Kahn and Waqar Younis, had more pace, however Wasim just appeared quick. Batsmen often talk of a bowler seeming quicker than they are, and Wasim always seemed to rush even the best. Wasim also had amazing long flowing hair, which some might argue has nothing to do with bowling ability. I beg to differ. Fast bowling is as much about style and presence as it is skill and precision. You just knew certain bowlers had batsmen beaten before a ball was bowled. For Curtly Ambrose his height and gold pendants positioned him as a higher being. Dennis Lillee had the flowing hair, bushy moustache and chest hair/revealing shirt combination which made him seem like a wild man. Glenn McGrath on the other hand, always appeared symmetrical, precise and well groomed, which conveyed his meticulous bowling prowess.
Wasim had whippy jet black hair that suited his bowling action and a maniacal smile which gave him incredible presence. He always seemed very personable, but could switch in an instant, meaning that batsmen never knew when he would blow up. He also had an amazing approach to the crease which seemed slow, but exploded at the crease so Wasim could send down thunderbolts.
His pace and presence aside though, Wasim’s greatest asset was his ability to make the ball ‘talk’. I’ve actually heard it said that Wasim could make the one delivery swing both ways before arriving at the batsman and although I never saw this, I can say with certainty that I’ve never seen a bowler who could swing the ball so dramatically late. There really is something special about left-arm swing bowlers and Wasim was able to not only push the ball across right-handers, but swing it even further away and of course produce inswingers banned by the Geneva convention. This was perhaps most in evidence in Pakistan’s famous 1992 World Cup victory when Wasim was probably at his peak. Granted, his time as captain wasn’t greatly successful, but even later in his career, once he had shortened his run-up, Wasim still had the guile and intellect to dismiss even the best.
So, Wasim was a bowler of great skill, but there’s another important reason why I have chosen him to be my favourite cricketer. As a kid growing up I remember Pakistan as a very talented and successful cricketing nation. Players such as Wasim, Imran, Waqar, Aamir Sohail, Saqlain Mushtaq and Moin Kahn were standout players and - most importantly - played the game in the right spirit. Teams toured and played in fantastic cricketing cathedrals at Lahore and Karachi; whilst touring the sub-continent is always a challenging experience for teams, it was so because of the passion of the crowd and the talent of the home teams.
Things are very different now. No international teams have toured there since the Sri Lankan debacle and it seems highly unlikely we’ll see anything like Mark Taylor’s extraordinary 334* in 1998, or the thrilling series between England and Pakistan in 2000 where England knocked the winning runs in virtual darkness much to the chagrin of Pakistan's captain, Moin Kahn. The state of Pakstani cricket - and, more generally the country - is an absolute shame, as has been evidenced by continual player and administration corruption.
As such, it is with great pleasure that I look back to Wasim as a player who represents a great era for not only Pakistan’s cricket team, but also the country itself. Even if he was from a country that hadn’t had these terrible troubles I’d still judge him as one of the greatest ever; but to me he represents a shining light in a situation filled with darkness, a truly memorable figure. When I think of Pakistani cricket, I don’t want to think of corrupt managers, crooked players, and terrorist attacks. I want to think of searing pace, swinging Yorkers, fiery passion, and most of all the long swinging hair and dangerous smile of my favourite cricketer, Wasim Akram.