Wasim Akram - Poetry in motion
Chasing 250, England appeared to be cruising at 141/4, Wasim Akram removed Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis off successive deliveries to seal the match for Pakistan.
Whenever I think of Wasim Akram, his rhythmic run-up followed by a graceful semicircular waltz and completed by a precise release from around the wicket comes to mind. He is perhaps the most elegant bowler to have ever entered a cricket field.
An unexpected beginning
His metamorphosis from being a young and lanky tear-away to the most intellectually functioning swing bowler was nothing short of a phenomenon. He had the legendary Imran Khan who knew a thing or two about fast bowling as his mentor. Akram has frequently mentioned the Lion of Lahore standing at mid-on or mid-off to guide him on working out various batsmen.
Initially, though, Akram could not even make it to his college cricket team. When Javed Miandad saw him at the nets in Gaddafi stadium, he knew this guy was someone special. He single-handedly convinced the selectors to include him in the touring party to New Zealand.
Wasim’s debut was rather sedate with his team losing heavily by an innings and 99 runs. He picked up the wickets of John Wright and Ian Smith. But, he impressed in the final Test of the series by running through the New Zealand top order at Dunedin. He toiled hard in the second innings without much support and got his maiden 10-wicket haul. His control and perseverance in bowling long spells caught everyone’s attention.
Injury and renaissance
He struggled with a groin injury and upon recovering after a couple of surgeries, he signed up for Lancashire as their overseas player. This would mark the beginning of a fruitful association with the county as he won over the British public with his charismatic spells. He had sparkled early in ODI cricket even more than in Tests early on in his career.
He played a major role in Pakistan winning the inaugural Austral-Asia cup by combining brilliantly with Imran. In the final, he snaffled up the crucial wickets of Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri to help restrict India to 245. Javed Miandad was the hero for his final ball six off Chetan Sharma which is an important part of cricket folklore. But, the unsung hero of the final was Akram.
He struggled in the 1987 World Cup as he had not yet mastered the art of bowling on the placid and spin-friendly surfaces of the subcontinent. He took two ODI hat-tricks in the space of six months and subsequently helped Pakistan retain the Austral-Asia Cup.
The seminal moment
His most cherished moment came in the 1992 World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand. Pakistan had come into the tournament as an unpredictable team with some hugely talented players in their squad. They had a horror start to the tournament as they only beat Zimbabwe and barely escaped humiliation due to rain after being bowled out for 74 against England.
They turned it around at the WACA against the home side. Imran’s famous cornered tigers speech turned them around as they entered the final of the tournament winning 4 matches in a row.
In the final against England, Wasim contributed with the bat with a quickfire 33 off just 18 balls. But, the magical moment was yet to come. Chasing 250, England appeared to be cruising at 141/4. Then, in an inspired spell of miraculous swing bowling, he removed Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis off successive deliveries to seal the match for Pakistan, thereby, giving them the most important moment in their sporting history.
Controversies and captaincy
Akram’s tactical acumen and stellar performances prompted the selectors to name him captain for the West Indies tour. But his initial stint was marred with controversies as he was caught along with 3 other players in possession of marijuana with women for company.
Pakistan lost the series 2-0 without offering a fight. But subsequently, he led the team successfully winning 12 Test matches and 66 ODls. His inspirational bowling and captaincy led the team to the final in the 1999 World Cup in England. But, his decision to bat first under grey skies was criticized heavily as Pakistan collapsed in the final against Australia.
His career was marked with fruitful bowling partnerships with several fast bowlers. He combined perfectly with right-arm speedsters like Imran Khan and Shoaib Akhtar. But, his most productive association was with Waqar Younis. They terrorized batsmen all over the world with swing from one end and pace from the other. Like every Pakistani seamer, Wasim’s most penetrative weapon was the reverse swinging yorker.
Akram has always been rated by many former cricketers and captains as the best left-arm bowler ever to play the game. His consistent swing bowling at an optimum pace with immaculate control was the highlight of his career. His batting was also very useful as he often saved a shaky Pakistani batting lineup which was prone to collapses.
He scored 3 hundreds including a double hundred against Zimbabwe. He has made it to several all-time cricket XIs picked by various eminent former cricketers and also by different cricket websites.