‘Mind your toes, jam the head, crack his nose and ram the jaw,’ are just few of the anecdotes tied to genuine pace bowling. To some, fast bowling is all about accuracy and generating sharp angles. To others, it’s a test of patience. To still others it’s a violent pursuit, an agreeable tool of intimidation, a macho - like exercise as if in a state of war, spilling both sweat and blood. In the annals of war, the most strikingly devastating role was played by the hunters, mindfully fixed on the opposition’s lead. For if the hunter succeeded in getting a crack on the spot, it would spell curtains for the opposition. Such are the parallels drawn when one discusses tear away fast bowling. Holding’s whispering death, Imran the brave hearted soldier, Donald’s white lightening, Waqar the toe crusher and Shoaib the disgruntled warrior are some of the catch phrases cricket pundits subscribe to whenever fast bowling is ruminated. Undeniably, the most gripping sight in a game of cricket is a fast bowler steaming in with his thunderbolts, flooring the opposition and changing the game within a space of a few overs. Such is and has always been the legacy of Pakistan’s cricket. Pakistan’s experience in this department, notably in the aftermath of ShoaibAkhtar, is a stark departure from that legacy. It is this legacy that has brought countless accolades to our country. Sadly, none of the current breed of fast bowlers we have, generate the same fear factor that the Imrans’ or the Waqars’ swaggered. Mohammad Aamir is perhaps the only one in recent times, but his inflated urge to make too much money too soon, robbed him of what could have been an illustrious and record breaking career already. It is imperative for this account, that we take a quick survey through our list of distinguished big-league fast bowlers: -
Imran Khan: When you think of Pakistan’s cricket, you think of Imran Khan. Even people who were not old enough while Imran was in his prime, can feel the excitement that he must have brought to the game. He is to Pakistan, what Sir Garfield Sobers is to West Indies.
At a time when the Australians had the privilege of unbolting Dennis Lillie and the West Indian flow of monstrously talented quick bowlers would just not cease, Pakistan, desperately girded up its loins in search of a fast bowler. That search ended with the emergence of Imran. His neck long, curly ruffled up hair, coupled with vengeance written on his face and an ostrich like sprint to the delivery stride was mesmerizing to watch. Add to that a graceful slinging leap, hurling down with a grunt. He was a tough operator during his long spells and had the ability to come back strongly even if things were not going right for him. His forte was his pace. In his pursuits as a new ball experimenter, he developed one of the most lethal deliveries of his time, the in dipper. This one darted in from outside off stump and has given Imran a bagful of wickets throughout his prime. Few at his time disputed that this Suave, Oxford educated and immensely talented cricketer would become a role model for many aspiring fast bowlers in the years to come.
WasimAkram: Bouncier tracks aside, this lanky college boy from Lahore, gave life to even dead wickets. A ball in his hand would do things what most of his contemporaries could only dream for. He redefined the art of fast bowling. With a short run up, his bouncers were devastatingly rattling. His quick arm and a ball concealing action, be witched many a great batsman. His most lethal delivery was anything that he delivered. He is, to this day, embalmed as the greatest left arm fast bowler the world has ever known. He matured his art under the leadership of Imran, who always pushed him into bowling at his optimal speed. Pace is something Wasim could not afford to compromise.
Waqar Younus: Waqar, with his whirly moustache, a head shaped like a cadet, a longish run up and a smooth approach to the wicket made headlines in no time. He sprinted in gracefully, accelerating like a cheetah near the delivery stride and bowled at ferocious speeds. Though he gave away runs cheaply as his length was full and mostly on off stump; his mentors always discouraged him to compromise on his pace. His pace was what made him a remarkable athlete. Later, under the nursing tutelage of Imran, he developed one of the most lethal deliveries in the game’s history - a reverse swinging Yorker. His bulge to fame were not those straight drives that he absorbed in his attempt to dig slanting Yorkers, but his battering ram of reverse swinging bolts, grounding the greatest of batsmen, sending their stumps flying and leaving their dignity in tatters.
ShoaibAkhtar: This five feet eleven inch, wide shouldered, muscle man, exploded onto the international stage from a small town in Rawalpindi. The more first class cricket he played, the more impact he made. Soon he was pushing the selectors nod. It was in a test match against the Indians at Kolkata in the year 1999 that he transformed from being a promising athlete into a superstar. The moment is etched in my mind. India were two down as Sachin Tendulkar walked out amidst a huge ceremonial applause of the crowd. Sachin, the Indian hero did not know what was in store for him. Wasim was standing at mid-off as the rookie’s guide. All he told the young lad was to ‘do what you do best, just bowl quick.’Shoaib hoofed up like a hungry stallion. His approach to the wicket was dramatic. His release of the bowl had a lion’s roar behind it. The bowl stormed into Sachin’s middle stump, uprooting it, and before one could make sense of the show, Sachin was walking back on a first ball duck. The cheering crowd at Eden Gardens Kolkata had disappeared into an eerie silence. Shoaib dominated the day with great venom and took five crucial wickets. Game after game he improved and his pace sharpened, clocking unimaginable speeds of around 100 miles per hour.
Now what?In all the heroics that I have attempted to excavate, there is one thing that’s stands common. All the great fast bowlers Pakistan has had, focused on speed. A work horse, line and length toddler may never do for you, what genuine pace can. Our legacy has been such and it has worked wonders for us. It must be mentioned that the current lot of senior players in the side, discourage quick bowling. This could be due to the volume of cricket, especially the T20s that are being played. Fast bowlers are asked to bowl within their limitations, something which is against the very spirit of this magnificent art. One example is WahabRiaz, who briefly looked promising, bowling at troubling speeds in his earlier years. However, given the volume of shorter versions played these days, Wahab has reduced his appetite for pace, permanently losing the once zing he had. Mohammad Irfan looked threatening initially, but I believe his age and a body that usually struggles from niggling injuries will most likely put a seal on his growth as a fast bowler.Pakistan must strike back with a genuine fast bowler as without the traditional roughing up and macho point proving, both test and one-day cricket will be nothing but skins and bones.
B. J. Sadiqis an alumnus of the University of Cambridge and a former Pakistani junior cricketer