On Waqar Younis' birthday, a look back at the Pakistani speedster's career filled with lethal reverse swing and toe-crushing yorkers
In Test cricket's 141-year old history, every playing nation has managed to carve out a distinct identity of its own. When we talk about Pakistan, the first thing which comes to a cricketing fan’s mind is the galaxy of pace bowling stalwarts they have consistently produced over the years.
Fast bowling was never considered a forte of cricketers born on the slow, low and spinning tracks of the subcontinent, but Pakistan is credited for breaking that long-standing norm. The sub-continent giants boast of a strong pace bowling legacy with world class seamers like Khan Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood, Sarfraz Nawaz, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoiab Akhtar, Umar Gul and Mohammad Amir besides many others.
Whether they were 'Sultans of Swing' or tearaway speed demons, Pakistan has produced some of the most fearsome pace bowling attacks which regularly tormented the best batting lineups in the world. Right from the deadly Sarfraz-Khan combination in the late 70s and 80s to the famed Wasim-Waqar duo in the 90s, Pakistani seamers have proved to be a constant thorn in the flesh for the best exponents with the willow.
At the core of Pakistan’s pace bowling exploits has been mastering the art of reverse swing. While many speedsters were adept at making the new ball swing, Pakistan's pacers mesmerized the world by making the old ball swing too, using a perfect blend of seam conditions and aero dynamics.
The reverse swing art pioneered by Sarfraz Nawaz was later fine-tuned and mastered by the lethal pace duo of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in the 90s. Waqar in particular went on to became the most skilled bowler at reverse swinging the red cherry.
Waqar’s side-on slinging action was tailor-made for him to generate enough swing through the air and go through the defenses of the best batsmen. In the early 90s, he created havoc in the seam-friendly county circuit with Surrey and Glamorgan by bowling his signature late swinging deliveries which darted into the batsmen and sent the stumps cartwheeling.
While playing for Pakistan, Waqar played the perfect foil to his seam partner Wasim Akram, who was hailed by the cricketing fraternity as the ‘Sultan of Swing’. While ‘Waz’ was a magician with the red cherry in hand, swinging it both ways, Waqar was predominantly an in-swing bowler who excelled at getting the ball to swing late into the batsman.
Wasim bowled with a short run up and quick arm action, but Waqar had a longish run up to the crease, a testimony of his endurance and stamina. ‘Wiki’, as he was popularly known in the cricketing circles, was a rare combination of raw speed and potent swing.
His talent with the ball was first spotted by Imran Khan, who saw the prodigious young bowler sweating it out in the nets at Sharjah. Imran took Waqar under his wing and served as the perfect mentor, teaching him the nuances of fast bowling. What followed next was the rise of a lethal pace battery which turned Pakistan into a world beating side.
Waqar had the ability of picking up wickets in a heap with both the new and the old ball, and he turned around many matches with his terrific bowling spells. What made him an outright strike weapon was his ability to bowl those toe-crushing yorkers at brisk pace which produced the sweet sound of timber more often than not.
Some of Waqar’s fiery spells are etched forever in the memory of global cricket fans. His seven for 36 against England at Leeds in 2001 ranks as one of the best spells of seam bowling in one day cricket.
At the peaks of his prowess, Waqar along with South Africa's Allan Donald were undoubtedly the best strike bowlers in one day cricket. A high percentage of Waqar's dismissals were clean bowled and leg before wicket, a testament to his sheer accuracy and pace.
Waqar and Wasim played a pivotal part in making Pakistan a formidable one day side in the 90s and early 2000s. The fearsome Pakistani bowling attack comprising of the lethal pace of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoiab Akhtar, Abdul Razzak and Azhar Mahmood along with spin greats like Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed ranks among the best ever in ODIs.
All through the 90s and early 2000s, the Waqar-Wasim duo was ranked alongside Donald-Pollock, Walsh-Ambrose and McGrath-Lee as the most feared pace bowling combinations in international cricket.
A cricketer with an analytical bent of mind, Waqar was also a fine leader of men. He was given the mantle of captaining Pakistan during a really tough phase, when the nation was gripped by a string of match fixing scandals and infighting among team members, and he achieved a fair amount of success.
Waqar represented Pakistan with distinction in 87 Tests and took a staggering 373 wickets, making him his nation's second highest wicket taker behind Akram. He is also the all-time third highest wicket taker in ODIs with 416 dismissals to his credit.
What makes his bowling record really impressive is his astonishing strike rate coupled with meager bowling average in both forms of the game. Notably, Waqar has the second best strike rate (43.4) among bowlers who have taken more than 200 Test wickets. He also has the most five wicket wicket hauls (13) in ODI cricket, and is the fastest bowler to get to 300, 350 and 400 wickets in that format.
After his 14-year stellar career in international cricket, Waqar has stayed connected with the sport as a leading commentator, and has also served as the head coach for Pakistan and many leading club franchises all over the world.
Waqar has been an insipirational figure and a role model to many speedsters like Shoiab Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir, all of whom had successful stints for Pakistan in international cricket.
For his outstanding service to Pakistan cricket and glittering achievements which spanned almost a decade and a half, Waqar was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame in December 2013.
Waqar, who turns 47 on November 16, has cemented his place as one of the greatest cricketers ever and will be remembered till eternity as arguably the finest swing bowler to have graced the gentleman’s game in the modern era.