Pakistan’s cricketing lore has always been nourished by tales of raw, rough-hewn talent searing away its blemishes to transform into something more finessed. Production of such fine talent is a relentless exercise: pound it down, expunge it, but cricketers with pizzazz will continue to emerge.
Fast bowlers must definitely be the jewel in the nation’s cricketing crown. From Fazal Mahmood and Khan Mohammad to Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz, from Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis to Shoaib Akhtar, Pakistan has crafted and perfected many a pace machine. Just as Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were blooming into superb speedsters, they were consumed by the tentacles of corruption.
Pace and movement
Recently, during the first ODI against India in Chennai, the left-arm pace duo of Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan — whose height has been a talking point — generated a good deal of amazement. India’s top four batsmen saw their stumps flattened by a thrilling mixture of pace and seam movement.
The 23-year-old Junaid has been rated highly by Waqar but it would still be a bit early to prop him up as the ‘next big thing.’
The relevant question here is how does Pakistan roll out quality fast men continually, especially with no apparent structure in place?
Misbah-ul-Haq, Test and ODI skipper of the team, feels there are different factors. “I think they are genetically strong and suited for such hard work. That is perhaps the major reason.”
Former Pakistan batsman Sadiq Mohammad, for his part, credits Wasim and Waqar with inspiring young fast bowlers. “All the chairmen of the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) ensured that fast bowlers like Wasim and Waqar gave the best education to new bowlers — how to bowl, how to use the crease, how to reverse-swing.
“They get very good coaching from two of the greatest bowlers produced by Pakistan. These youngsters are the result of that. Pakistan has been able to produce so many good fast bowlers mainly because of Wasim and Waqar,” said the 67-year-old.
Noted Pakistani cricket writer Osman Samiuddin, in a 2010 column for ESPNCricinfo, noted that pace bowling was a “national obsession.”
“Wanting to bowl quick, to hit stumps or hit batsmen is as much a part of growing up in Pakistan as anything and it has been that way since at least the mid-70s. Even before that, Pakistan was never short of quality fast-bowling options.”
Wasim, in an interview to dawn.com last year, spoke about his ‘tape ball’ beginnings in Lahore. “I played a lot of tape-ball cricket, in addition to the plain tennis ball. I think the idea is really to just play cricket at that age, get your muscles going and get used to fast bowling.
“Once you hit the age of 14, you can make the transition to a cricket ball. When I started bowling with a cricket ball, I was quite nippy, because I was already used to exerting more energy with the tape ball.”
Pace bowling is a vocation both demanding and enthralling. Indeed, Pakistan’s finest have given cricket fans, across generations, plenty of enjoyment and adrenaline rush.