Continuing with our series on the greatest cricketers of all time, here’s No. 8 on our list.
No. 8 – Wasim Akram
- Shaquille O’Neal
Over the course of 19 years, a man from Lahore repeatedly ran in hard against some of the best batsmen in the business, causing them all sorts of trouble. In the process, he logged in a number of remarkable career highlights, including a World Cup-winning performance, becoming the first bowler to take more than 400 wickets in both Tests and ODIs and taking four hat-tricks across two formats of the game. Then again, Wasim Akram was truly a once-in-a-generation cricketer; nothing less would have been expected of the best left arm fast bowler in the history of international cricket.
In the 1980s, most Pakistani players got a look into the national squad if they impressed some senior national players at the nets or in any domestic games. Akram was no different. Within a year of his domestic debut, he was thrown into the cauldron of international cricket because Javed Miandad saw a spark in him when Akram tried his hand at the local trials held in Lahore. His Test debut was unremarkable but in his second Test, he picked the first of his five 10 wicket hauls, and he never looked back after that.
First, let’s get the statistics out of the way. In Tests, he picked 414 wickets at an average of 23.62 and a strike rate of 54.6 in 104 games. Whichever way you look at it, that is a stunning record. In ODIs, he was even more lethal, picking 502 wickets in 356 games with a remarkable economy rate of 3.89 and strike rate of 36.2. If you ever had to pick a complete fast bowler, statistically at least, you couldn’t go wrong with Akram.
Then again, numbers can only tell you a part of the story. To fully comprehend the phenomenon that was Akram, you need to witness the master at work. Just search for his clips on YouTube to relive some of the finest exhibitions of fast bowling you’ll ever see. It all started with a slow amble which picked up speed when he approached the crease. Then with a ball-concealing action, he delivered quality deliveries on demand, rarely straying in line or length. It was said that Akram could bowl six different deliveries in an over, and that is no exaggeration. Swing, seam, slower delivery, bouncer, yorker – he had mastery over them all. More importantly, he had a canny mind which served him well when he was pitted against some of the most skilled batsmen of his generation.
There are lots of great cricketers going around, but very few who revolutionize their area of expertise. If Shane Warne made leg spin fashionable, Akram made left arm fast bowling look like an artistic exhibition. He bowled in an era filled with legendary right arm pacemen like Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Glenn McGrath and fellow countryman Waqar Younis, so to single-handedly elevate left arm fast bowling is no mean feat. Akram has inspired a generation of pace bowlers to bowl left arm – Irfan Pathan and the now disgraced Mohammed Amir chiefly among them.
Akram was no mug with the bat either; after all, his highest Test score is an unbeaten 257. Pakistani legends Imran Khan and Javed Miandad used to rue how Akram never really utilized his potential to the fullest, and yet, there are countless instances where his uncomplicated and free-spirited batting won games for his team. He was an ideal batsman for the end overs in ODIs, where his rapid cameos helped Pakistan set up defendable total, or chase down targets. By the time he was done with international cricket, he had 3 hundreds and 13 fifties overall – figures which automatically confer all-rounder status to players these days.
Pakistani cricket and captaincy have always had a turbulent relationship, and yet he was one of Pakistan’s finest skippers during his second stint in the late 90s. In typical fashion, controversy was never too far off, especially during the 1996 and 1999 World Cups; yet, he was an inspirational leader who could get the best out of his players and remained a father figure to many, including the wild child Shoaib Akhtar.
So which of his numerous match-winning performances will be remembered for the longest time? How about the 1990 Austral-Asia cup final in Sharjah, where his quick fire 49 from 35 balls and 3/45 (a hat-trick) helped Pakistan retain the trophy? Or how about the England series in 1992, where, along with Younis, he won the Tests at Lords and the Oval with both bat and ball? The second final of the Carlton & United series in 1997 perhaps, where he helped Pakistan defend a sub-par score against the West Indies with figures of 3/17 in 7 overs? The numerous battles in the deserts of Sharjah against his favorite rivals, India? There are many to choose from, but the one performance he will probably cherish the most is his World Cup-winning performance against England in 1992, where alongside a blazing knock of 33 from 18 balls, he produced three special deliveries at the right time to help Pakistan to their first and only World Cup triumph so far. It is one thing to have the talent and skill; it is another to raise your performance in the biggest game of your life to help your team win. Wasim Akram relished those situations which always brought out the best in him.
It was said that during his first tour of England in 1987, Imran Khan would tell him, “You have to work like a dog, Wasim”. He did; for two decades and some. That hard work saw him rise to be one of the finest fast bowlers in the history of the game, and the best left arm pace bowler ever. Will we ever get to see another bowler quite like Wasim Akram? Don’t hold your breath over it.
And now, here’s a compilation of some of the most memorable wickets of Akram’s career. Experience the magic!
These are the other players who have made it so far:
No. 20 – Bill O’Reilly; No. 19 – Fred Trueman; No. 18 – Dennis Lillee; No. 17 – Sunil Gavaskar; No. 16 – Steve Waugh; No. 15 – Kapil Dev; No. 14 – Malcolm Marshall; No. 13 – Glenn McGrath; No. 12 – Imran Khan; No. 11 – Brian Lara; No. 10 – Jack Hobbs; No. 9 – Adam Gilchrist
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: