The fifth ODI between Pakistan and South Africa was dedicated to Wasim Akram who retired just after the World Cup. A moment to rejoice for the oppositions all over the world and the way Proteas easily beat Pakistan one could see how Pakistan missed Wasim. But things aren’t forever and as all good things must come to an end, Wasim has finally called it a day. Here’s a piece that I wrote earlier in tribute to the Big W, God’s own left arm. It is reproduced here for the readers of Cricketfundas.com:
“First of all, convince yourself that you are the best because the rest of your life is gonna go proving this to others” -Wasim Akram, in a T.V commercial.
One thing Wasim has shown us in his 19 year long career is he enacts what he says. The tremendous confidence he had as a young boy of 18 when some more ordinary guy would be nervous participating in a school debate would make even greatest of champions envious of him. He damn sure knew he was the best and boy, has he proved this to the whole world! Yes he has and in fact, he has done this in a manner that the best of the batsmen in the world fear him. But there’s good news for some new batsmen, the Sultan of Swing has finally decided to retire from international cricket. This would mean batters need not worry about a lanky fast bowler whose run up was a mere 10-15 steps but who could bowl fast, swinging toe crushing yorkers that could render even the best of batsmen mere spectators. And they also need not worry about the late swinging deliveries to which the umpires couldn’t resist raising the finger indicative of an LBW. (29% of his wickets include LBWs!). And bowlers over the world can save themselves blushes, the kind when the very same man got stuck into them and hit them a mile. (Ask Zimbabweans whom he hit for a record number of sixes in his 257 run knock!)
Time and again, I have seen teams fighting back against a Pakistan bowling attack after early setbacks requiring just about one and a half run per ball in the last few overs. But that’s where the party ends-because then the ball is thrown to Wasim and the whole world knows how desperately impossible it is to score at more than a run a ball when Wasim is bowling at the death. Arguably the best bowler at death, his straight late swinging yorkers are responsible for the shortening of most tails all over the world. And who said that with the advent of helmets and protective equipment, tailenders will be able to contribute more? At least not against a Wasim led Pak attack.
They say that with age, flair gives way to simplicity; exuberance gives way to soberness and childhood gives way to wisdom that comes with the realization that you have grown old. Flamboyance and age happen to share a negative correlation, but not with Wasim. You have seen him around for about 19 years now, he must be old. He needs insulin everyday, a severe diabetic, he must be really old. And yet, when you watch him take his n hundred and nth wicket, the childish joy on his face makes you believe he is a young debutant who has just taken his first wicket. That’s Wasim Akram for you. Even at the fag end of his career in World Cup 2003, one cannot forget his consecutive deliveries to get Hayden and Martyn. And who could say he is a 37 year old?
Talk of Wasim and the mind inevitably goes back to World Cup 1992 finals- England cruising towards a victory and all of a sudden Wasim produces two unplayable balls to dismiss Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis in succession. That was when he was at his vintage best. And that he could produce such deliveries consistently when his team desperately needed those is the factor that sets him aside. What’s similar in Steve Wuagh, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, and Wasim Akram? We all come to expect the unexpected with them. Hand Wasim the ball when nothing is happening for you and he will bring some magic.
It’s a rare breed, this- the left arm pacemen. Come to think of the names and you don’t have much more than Allan Davidson, Gary Sobbers or Bill Voce. But hands down, the best of them all was spotted by one wise man- Javed, ‘The Spotter’ Miandad. In his very first series against New Zealand in 1984-85, he drew comparisons with all the big names mentioned above. In only his second test, he bagged a 10-wicket haul and became the youngest man to do so. And since then, looking behind is one thing he has never done. Now that when he looks into retrospect, he would like to change the 1996 World Cup Quarter Final against India, the 1999 World Cup Final and the supposed match fixing allegations against him. I call these allegations ‘supposed’ because not in my life have I seen him ever give anything less than One Hundred Percent. Yes it hasn’t been all rosy. It never is, for anyone.
He has had to take the wrath of a cricket crazy nation and a corrupt administration for every failure of his, no matter how few and far within these failures have come. Add to this the fact that he has taken a majority of his 916 international wickets on subcontinent pitches- dead as dodos, not to forget a long menu of injuries he has fought. The brunt of Akram’s cricket has been borne by his groin and shoulder. His groin was first operated on in 1988 and again two years later. The latter operation was complicated when an adductor muscle separated from his pelvis, leaving his left leg only half as strong as his right: it was restored only by intensive physiotherapy.
He first experienced shoulder pain seven years ago, while representing Lancashire, and delayed surgery, only to break down when he tried to bowl a bouncer during the Singer Cup Final in Sharjah in April 1997: there were further operations, a six-month lay-off and a regime of painkillers. Add to this, severe diabetes and fading eye sight. And still he continued till 2003 and stayed among the top few bowlers all through. Nothing short of a medical miracle- Is it?
Despite all the match fixing allegations and personal controversies, he still remains the best quick bowler I have seen operate in 20 years of my life.
And what better a testimony than the highest run-getter himself-“If I ever get a chance to be reborn as a cricketer, I would want to be Wasim”-Allan Border