Although the year 1965 was the year when the two arch rivals India and Pakistan were facing each other with arms and there is still a lot of debate about who won that contest, but the same year Pakistan got a real master in the shape of a baby who born on June 3, 1965 and today he is known as the ‘Sultan of swing’ all across the world. To put it simply, a magician with the ball was born. Wasim Akram is perhaps the best left hander pacer ever to be seen at the international arena and is respected by millions of spectators all across the globe. He was a fierce fighter. Doesn’t matter what he had in his hand, he’ll put you out of the trouble more often than not. He had his own style of getting the better of the opposition. He had complete mastery over swing and seam. He had the sword that would penetrate the bests of the business from a direction least expected. Wasim Akram also known as ‘WAZ’ was really a treat to watch.
Wasim Akram had a career that anyone would have dreamed of. With almost the pretty same bowling action, he can either get a batsman leg before wicket or bowled with his in-dippers or he can get a thick or thinnest of the edges to the keeper or the slip quadrant. In addition to that, he also had some deadly yorkers which he uses to bowl at the backyard of the innings in one-dayers and also in tests to stun the batsmen. The man is rated by many as the best left arm pacer of all times. No matter if you are playing on a green top wicket or a wicket which is batting paradise, he was really hostile and almost impossible to handle with the red nuts in tests or white one in one day internationals. Sarfaraz Nawaz had pioneered the art of reverse swing and the legendary captain Imran Khan enhanced it. This art of swinging the old ball was put to great effect by the two Ws i.e. Wasim and Waqar. Making his first class debut in 1984-85, the man had never looked back. Indeed, the pretty same year i.e. 1984 he was representing Pakistan at the biggest level. He emerged on the international arena when he shared his one day internationals debut against the Blackcaps on November 23, 1984 along with Shoaib Mohammed. He wasn’t that much impressive in that match as he gave away 31 runs in his quota of 4 overs. As Pakistan cricket is renowned for ruining the players, the same thing happened and Wasim didn’t had any match after that in the 4-match series which eventually was won by Pakistan 3-1. Well the man didn’t lost heart and kept on working hard. Wasim also made his test debut against the kiwis and in his very first test got 2 wickets by giving away 105 runs. Not taking any more time, the man with the golden arm took a first ever five-for by just giving 56 runs in 1st innings of his 2nd test. The party wasn’t going to end as he got another five wicket haul in the 2nd innings. A very good batting line-up was thrashed by this young lad who aggregated 10 wickets for 128 runs in that match and thus securing a ‘Man of the Match’ award. Although Pakistan was on the receiving end and lost the three match test series to Kiwis by the margin of 2-0 but the real positive was the bowling of a 19 year old who rattled through Kiwis’ defenses. He needed just a single match to make his mark at the biggest level. Thus, Wasim Akram with his deadly spells of bowling announced himself on the international arena and rung the bell of danger for all the batsmen across the world.
Over a 19-year international career, he got wickets in tests and one day internationals at almost every venue that he had played and with a consistency that simply was no less than mind-boggling. He was an explosive genius who could change the match both with the bat and the ball at any time. The performance against the Kiwis set a glorious test career on its way. As the trouble that you can affix with a rookie, the same happened with Wasim. He was bit mercurial in performances in his early days. But, soon he got that angle covered as well. The man had a promising start to his international career. Wasim also travelled with team to show glimpse of his brilliance in the Caribbean. Three years later in Barbados, Akram bowled really well to get 7 islanders out but Pakistan ended up losing that thriller and missed a chance of beating West Indies on their home soil in a test series. In his first five years, Akram managed to get 94 wickets in 29 tests with a modest average but the best from the left handed pacer was about to come. As a cricketer, Wasim Akram got better and better. Akram’s golden period started from the year 1990 as he was quickly travelling the distance from a rookie to a pro. Against the mighty Australians, he grabbed 11 wickets in a test match at Melbourne and that really started his miraculous run with the ball for some years. From 1990 to 1997, Akram was on its peak and was too hot to handle. In that period, Wasim played 48 test matches and grabbed a tally of 240 wickets with a brilliant average of only 20.05 per wicket. That tally includes 16 five-fors and three times in a test match, he managed to get 10 or more wickets. That was the period when the bowlers like Allan Donald, Curtly Ambrose, and Waqar Younis etc were there in the international circuit to threat the bests of the batsmen. His average of 20.05 was better than anyone else in that period. Beating the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Waqar Younis, and Allan Donald in terms of average was no child’s play at all. Overall, Wasim Akram secured 17 Man of the Match awards and seven Man of the Series awards. The rate of winning these awards was simply terrific and was simply among the best of all times.
When you are born in Asia where you are likely to find good batting decks, as a fast bowler it becomes difficult to survive. Like other demolishing Pakistani pacers, Wasim had his vision spot-on on grassless pitches where after a bit of assistance with the new red nut, his potent weapon was the art of reversing the ball. He is the one of only four bowlers to grab more than 150 wickets on Pakistani decks. The other three are the leggie (leg spinner) Abdul Qadir, the legendary Imran Khan and the toe crusher Waqar Younis. Wasim Akram managed to find 414 wickets in his 104 test matches. While in 356 one-day appearances, he gathered a tally of 502 wickets which was a world record at that time. Wasim Akram was the first ever bowler to have 500 dismissals in one day internationals. Wasim Akram is still the 2nd highest wicket takers in one-dayers. The only to surpass him is another magician spinner Muttaih Muralitharan who through his unorthodox bowling and a dangerous ‘Doosra’ has 534 wickets in 350 matches. Wasim Akram and Muttaih Muralitharan are the only two bowlers to get more than 500 wickets. Another unique record comes from the previous one that Wasim is the only pacer ever to surpass 500 one day wickets. He is the only bowler in 130 plus years history of cricket to fetch four hat-tricks. Playing 5 World Cups in his 19 year international career, Wasim Akram is the 2nd highest wicket taker in World cups, only after Glenn McGrath of Australia with 71 World Cup wickets, where he summed a tally of 55 wickets in 38 world cup encounters. Well the long lasting stories of his achievements are not only limited to the bowling. He also had done miracles with the bat. He scored 2898 test runs with an average of 22.64 including 7 fifties and 3 tons. Wasim Akram has also a record to his name for the highest score by a number eight batsman in test cricket when he smashed a stylish double century. He scored 257 not out off 363 deliveries which included 12 towering sixes which itself is a record at the international level. When it comes to delivering lusty blows and whacking the bowlers at the backyard of an ODI, the man was a real smart customer. With six half centuries, Akram had 3717 ODI runs averaging 16.52 runs per match. He had a career strike rate of 88.33 which is greater than any of the batsmen that played against Zimbabwe in the recently concluded ODI series. He has the third highest Man of the Match awards in test cricket. Wasim Akram has taken 916 wickets in his international career, which is the 5th most by any player in the history of international cricket and the most by a Pakistani. In his career, he has bowled 40,813 balls, which is also the most by a Pakistani and it is the 8th most amount of balls bowled by an international player. Wasim Akram was also included as a member of ICC hall of fame on September 30th, 2009 and he also was awarded the life time achievement award by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). From getting the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1983 for his achievements to being awarded the Most Stylish Sports person in 2003, the man is a real legend.
Though Akram played five World Cups but the dream event was the World Cup of 1992 when that young star glittered very efficiently. Wasim Akram was an absolute star in Cricket World Cup 1992. Akram was an ace card during that mega event. The Pakistani team didn’t had a good start in that mega event and lost the first match to West Indies by a big margin of 10 wickets. Had it not been the rain that washed out the match between Pakistan and England, it would have been curtains for us in that World Cup. Pakistan gained a point there and with that point and the momentum, we went on to lift that crystal cup. Wasim Akram secured 18 wickets in that event at an average of 18.77 per wicket. The highlight of Wasim’s brilliance was on the time when it was needed the most. In the final against England, Wasim showed his class. Pakistan managed 249 runs with the late fireworks from Akram. The fun didn’t end there for Wasim as he spoiled the British chances also with the ball in hand. Wasim showed with the ball that what a star he was. He bowled an instrumental spell and took 3 wickets for 49 runs to derail England’s chase. The two best deliveries of the match were bowled by the Man of the Match of the final as he got out Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis on successive deliveries. Aaqib Javed reckoned those two deliveries as almost unplayable ones. His vicious reverse swing got the better of the two batsmen. Some resistance was there by the England but Pakistan kept a tight check as Imran Khan ensured that Pakistan ends up the tournament with the trophy in hand.
With such a superb career, one could not expect that the man had not captained Pakistan for quite a time. Wasim Akram also had the privilege to lead his country in more than 100 one day internationals. Wasim led Pakistani team in 25 test matches and 109 ODIs. After the exit of the legendary Imran Khan from the international cricket, Wasim was the first most choice to take charge of the team. Out of the 25 tests that he captained, Pakistan went on to win 12 of them. Pakistan lost 8 tests under his captaincy while 5 tests among those 25 were drawn. The high point of his test captaincy was the one when Pakistan performed out of the skin to grab the inaugural Asian Test Championship in 1999-2000. Under his leadership, Pakistan also managed to draw a test series against India in India in 1999-2000. He held his nerve during a nail-biting thriller at Chennai against India in 1998 as Pakistan ended it by winning the match as well as the hearts of billions of viewers. Taking nothing away from him, but he also had his bad patches as the test captain of Pakistan. Under his captaincy Pakistan also suffered a 2-0 test series loss to West Indians immediately after the World Cup of 1992. There was also a humiliating defeat against the Kangaroos in the test series as Pakistan failed to win even a single test match in the three match test series. Pakistan was thrashed by the four time world champion Australia and Pakistan ended the test series with a white wash by the margin of 3-0. As a test captain, he wasn’t anywhere near to Imran Khan but his involvement in the game, his passion, his enthusiasm, his brilliance always kept the opposition honest on their feet. His field-placements were quite good and was very aggressive in nature but yet he was not that much successful as a test skipper. Coming to the shorter format, the man has done a magnificent job for the Pakistan as just he was expected. Wasim led Pakistan to 66 one day internationals victories out of the 109 matches that he played as a skipper. Wasim’s win/loss ratio as an ODI captain was 1.60 which is the joint highest for any Pakistan skipper in a tally of more than 50 games. The other skipper to do so is the other W i.e. Waqar Younis. Under Wasim’s captaincy tenure, Pakistan won the Cricket World Series in Australia in 1996-1997. The tri series included Pakistan, arch rivals India and the mighty Australia. Wasim also led Pakistan in two World Cups, 1996 and 1999. Pakistan was thrown out of the race of ’96 world cup after losing to the arch rivals India. Wasim had to sit out and enjoy the match as a spectator as he caught an injury. As was expected, there was a huge amount of protest before his house and the people were angry at the peak. Talking about the World Cup 1999, Wasim could have led Pakistan to their second ODI World Cup win but, thanks to a poor display in the final that allowed Australia an easy passage and deprived Pakistan of their second World Cup glory. Indeed, it was the second World Cup win, but that was for the Australians. Pakistan had the momentum as Wasim marshaled his troops really nicely to take Pakistan at the brink of the victory. But fortunes changed and all the great work was done and dusted. Eyebrows were raised at this match and critics reckoned that Wasim set up the game for the opposition. However, none of the allegations were really proved. Wasim was also a part of 2003 World Cup in which Pakistan even failed to reach the Super Six stages as the group stages defeats were enough to put the curtains.
But, overall Wasim was loved by most of the people. He was praised very heavily by some great cricketers. Cricketers around the world acknowledged him and credited him for his lethal bowling. Imran Khan said that Wasim Akram is the most gifted cricketer of the world. The great left hander Brian Lara admired Akram by reckoning Wasim as the best ever bowler that he has faced in his 15 or 16 years of international cricket. Arjun Ranantunga, the World Cup winning captain of Sri Lanka has said that had he been allowed to born again, he would have loved to born as Wasim Akram. After a short interval following the dismal display of Pakistan in World Cup’03, Wasim Akram announced his retirement from the international circuit. He commented that there is an end to everything and so is the case with me. He added that had good and rough patches but he hadn’t had changed it for anything else. As a result, an era of dominance, an era of mastery, an era of true sportsmanship, and an era of supreme left handed fast bowling ended on May 18th, 2003. Cricket has seen the greats like Waqar Younis, Allan Donald, Glenn McGrath, Curtly Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall and many more but Wasim was the prince of his own caste. Hence, there could be a lot of speed-stars but no one can ever touch the class and mastery that Wasim possessed. Another rookie of the same bowlers factory i.e. Pakistan took the world by surprise and many have the thoughts that in the shape of Mohammed Aamir cricket can see another legend but courtesy of the spot-fixing scandal as the boy was banned to play cricket for 5 years. Well, not going into that debate we can easily say that there’ll only be the one Sultan of Swing. But, we still hope to see the greats like him.
MANNAN HASSAN KHAN