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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wasim Akram - The magic man

In this mundane day to day life, where we work like robots from morning till night, we sometimes yearn for a fantasy world, I for one surely do. A world, where I am the all powerful spy agent with supernatural powers chasing down bad guys in a Buggati Veryon. While going at the speed of 200mph, there is the usual stereophonic screaming of shimmying tyres and it spins hundred and eighty degrees. I won't lose the track, as I get back on the gas and nail the bad guys with funky gadgets. Alas! I wake up and see that I am still in the same old mundane world.

Now, I can watch a Bond movie to satisfy my thirst for fantasy, but what will you give if in our world, there is a guy who can do it for real? He is a wizard, who with his wizardry sends mere mortals known as cricketers back to the pavilion one by one. In short, after facing a few of those magical spells from the wizard, the batsmen seemed to be suffering from amnesia about the location of their off-stump and start to wonder what are they doing on a cricket pitch. A few may wonder, is he really a cricketer or a magician, who performs tricks like pulling a rabbit out of a empty hat? If you haven't guessed the name yet, yes I am thinking about a cricketer and his name is Wasim Akram.

As a young boy, I was just hooked to the way Wasim bowled. Wasim sprinting to the crease, his quick arm whiplash action and those reverse swinging yorkers that were shot like arrows at the toes of batsmen was a sight to behold. You sometimes wondered, whether he could swing an orange or an apple and send the stumps of a batsman cartwheeling.

In a career spanning almost two decades, Wasim bowled about zillion deliveries that would make you feel that he was a wizard, who just waved his magic wand and made batsmen dance to his tunes. I can't remember every great delivery he bowled in his career, but to understand the essence of his mastery over swing/seam bowling, I can definitely remember a few jaw dropping deliveries.

On a typical cold day in England in 1996, our magic man produced a delivery at Oval that could have even made the god watching it, think of bestowing heavenly sunshine on the ground.

Unfortunately, I watched the magic ball only on highlights package, so I would like to quote what Mike Selvey said about that incredible delivery,

"Halfway down the pitch towards the right-hander, the delivery seemed innocuous. Delivered left-arm from round the wicket by Wasim Akram, it had the usual slithery speed, and was up there in length - an attempted yorker probably, but too full. It began to angle down the leg side, a low full-toss just ripe for Robert Croft, the England offspinner, to flick away to fine leg for an easy boundary. Croft planted his front foot and began the process of turning the ball away. He missed, the ball thudded into his pad, and Wasim roared his appeal. Negative, said the umpire, and we in the press box nodded knowingly: missing leg by miles

Then came the replay, in super slow motion, and it was so astounding it left mouths gaping. For in the last 10 feet or so, the ball ceased angling down the leg side and instead swung back the other way, eluding Croft's bat by six inches. Unquestionably it would have hit middle stump, but it all happened so fast and late that it deceived the eye of everyone, not least the umpire. The single most astonishing delivery that I have witnessed failed to produce a wicket"
- Mike Selvey in the magazine Wisden Asia Cricket March 2003.

You tube Video of the magic ball bowled to Croft.


I don't think Mike Selvey was exaggerating it either. After seeing the magic ball, I just said to myself, one can't describe it with stereotype words like sultan of swing, peach of a delivery, astounding, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, jaw-dropping, mind blowing, preternatural, wondrous, or whatever words a person may come up with. In-fact, to aptly describe that delivery, a new word has to be found in the dictionary!

One more magic delivery he bowled was to Dravid in the 99 series in India. He set up Dravid for the away swinger with a couple of inswingers before he produced the magic ball.  What made it worse for the batsman was, it swung in the air and pitched outside the line of batsman's leg-stump, so no one would have expected it to move at the last nano second away from the batsman at a slithery speed and hit the off-stump, but Akram was able to do that coup de grace act to send Dravid back to the pavilion. When he produced deliveries like the one he bowled to Dravid, I felt like just taking my hat off and saluting the great man for his wizardry.

Of course, no one can forget those two deliveries he bowled in the 92 WC to Lamb and Lewis. The delivery he bowled to Allan Lamb isn't something I would likely see in my lifetime again.

With a quick arm action and at slithery speed, the ball pitched on and around middle stump and hit the off-stump with Wasim bowling from slightly wide of the crease. For a moment, it seemed like Wasim had hypnotised Lamb to do break dance, as in a split second, he was looking to close the face of the bat and when he realized that it was reversing late away from him, his bat face naturally opened up. It was too late for Lamb though, as his off-stump was already uprooted and was going for a nice walk in the night. To reverse it late, to create that sort of angle and to do it at 90mph requires great skills. There have been left-armers, who have reversed it  from around the wicket, but none have got it to reverse both ways at that speed as consistently as Akram did.

It is said that before Akram cleaned up Allan Lamb, his partner at the other end Fairbrother went up-to Lamb and cautioned him that as the ball had got old, he should look out for Akram reversing it late both ways from around the wicket. Having played with Akram at Lancashire, Fairbrother would have had a fair idea of what Akram could do with a old ball yet, even if Lamb had taken his words seriously, I don't think he could have done much. It happened so quickly that Lamb must have felt like his vision was blurred and needed to have an eye check up.

Wasim has bowled so many great deliveries like the one he bowled to swashbuckling Australian wicket-keeper batsman Gilchrist in the 99 WC which took out his off-stump and a similar delivery against the same batsman in a tri-series in 2002. There are some, who also remember  him cleaning up Gunawerdena of Srilanka in a one-day tournament. To be honest, if I continue to talk about Wasim Akram's magic deliveries, it may never end as he has bowled about zillion magic deliveries. Even at the fag end of his career, he welcomed Trezza to Pakistan with a barrage of 90mph bouncers followed by the inswinging yorker to trap him in front on a dead pitch in the first test at Lahore in 2000/01. I usually compare Akram to a great director of a suspense thriller, where the viewer just won't be able to predict any of the twists and turns in the movie.

In simple words, Akram could swing both the new and the old ball, he swung them both ways and with a barely perceptible change in action. Even on wickets that gave him no assistance, he could be given the ball at any moment of the game and be expected to take a wicket. At his best, he could make even a classy batsmen look bad and it is no surprise that he ran through the the tail time and again. Here, if I think about Akram making a classy batsman look bad, I remember the West Indian great Lara saying that Akram could even get past a perfect forward defence of a batsman and send the stumps for a walk. 

I also have to talk a bit about his batting as on occasions, he could thump the ball as hard as anyone could and play a match winning innings. He once made a double hundred against Zimbabwe in a test match and he smashed 12 sixes in that innings. In-fact, every-time he played, it seemed like he would smash a six over the cow corner, or the long on region. I for sure still remember him coming down the wicket and hitting Radford as clean as a whistle straight down the ground for a six in the 1990 Benson and Hedges final against Worcestershire.

To end it, if I am captaining a cricket team from Planet Earth in my dreams made up of fantasy and we are up against aliens from Mars, desperately in need of  a wicket, I would go to my magic man Akram and give him the ball and tell him, I don't see anyone other than you taking the wicket.