I have been fascinated by fast bowling since a very young age. I always tried to imitate the actions of great fast bowlers and try to bowl like them. Though I was not always successful, I would just admire their bowling abilities. I liked the pace and bounce the Aussie bowlers used to produce, the swinging deliveries from English bowlers and also the accuracy of the South African pacers. But none of them left me in awe like the former Pakistani pace bowlers, who had the perfect combination of swing, pace and accuracy.
The first Pakistani pacer who took the world by storm with his accuracy and a new weapon to swing the ball in sub continent pitches-Imran Khan. Though I do not have too much of an idea about pacers from Pakistan before the late 70’s, I am pretty sure that none of them revolutionised Pakistan’s pace attack like Imran Khan. Being a bowling all-rounder, he was a phenomenal bowler, with a bowling average of 22 in tests and 26 in ODIs . He was the one who introduced the concept of reverse swing, which is a lethal weapon when the ball is used in sub- continent conditions. He inspired the youth of Pakistan to take up fast bowling in a country where spin bowling was more prevalent and coaches used to recommend the youth to take up spin bowling.
Among the youth he inspired, there was a left handed pacer who went on to become one of the best swing bowlers ever-Wasim Akram. Imran Khan found him in a youth selection camp. He was the one who recommended selectors to induct Akram into the team at a young age. Akram made his debut in 1985. Though it took him a few years to get along, he slowly and steadily became better and better. With Waqar Younis coming into international arena, making a debut in 1989 in the same match where Sachin made his debut, the Younis-Akram pair went on to become one of the fiercest bowling pair for the next decade.
The Pakistani pacers were instrumental in their World Cup victory in 1992. It was the last tournament for Imran Khan and the team gave him a fitting tribute by winning the World Cup for him. Wasim Akram was Pakistan’s best bowler in the final, who turned around the match with his reverse swing to change the course of the match.
After the retirement of Imran Khan, the Pakistan did not need for a new pacer thanks to the Younis-Akram duo. Akram’s swingers with the new ball and Younis’ toe crushing inswinging yorkers were really a treat to watch. These bowlers used reverse swing to a great effect in sub-continental conditions.
Then in late 1998 in the series against India, a Pakistani pacer named Shoaib Akhtar came into international limelight by taking the wickets of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar in consecutive balls! He had only one motive-to catch the batsman off-guard with sheer pace.He was a genuine fast bowler, bowling in sub 150’s in ease.He bowled the fastest delivery in the 2003 World Cup, clocking 100 miles/hr. With Akram and Younis in their final stage of their career, much was expected from this youth from Rawalpindi.
Then the famed duo retired from international cricket. Cricket lost some of the best fast bowlers in history. Pakistan was never able to find an apt replacement for them. Yes,there have been glimpse of greatness in many fast bowlers like Umar Gul, Mohammad Sami, Mohammad Asif etc. who came later; but none could deliver results consistently. Even Akhtar, who was destined for greatness, could not prove his mantle, being injury-prone and was frequently involved in disciplinary issues.
Pakistan used to be always known for producing world class spinners like Abdul Qadir, Saqlain Mushtaq etc. But Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis showed to the world that Pakistan has equally talented fast bowlers as well; bowlers who inspired a whole new generation not only in Pakistan, but around the world.