That cricket as a sport encourages batsmen, bowlers and fielders to display their skills, is merely stating the obvious.
What is less obvious is that it’s also a sport that encourages writers and commentators to discuss the nuances of the game. Perhaps what is completely forgotten, is the great joy and scope for the photographers who cover this game.
One of the best in this category was the great David Munden. David, a left-handed batsman and leg-spin bowler, represented Leicester Cricket Club’s Second XI. After his playing days, he took to photography and became one of cricket’s greatest photographers. I bumped into David in 1993 during the Benson & Hedges Cup final between Lancashire and Leicester.
I had assumed David had come to support his club but surprisingly that was not the case. He had come to take photographs of a Pakistani bowler who played for Lancashire. The bowler just bowled seven overs and conceded only 10 runs, and in the process took five wickets. It was none other than the ‘Sultan of Swing’ Wasim Akram.
During my conversation with David, he told me that among all the photographs he took of all the great cricketers, he was most fond of his photographs of Wasim Akram.
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A photographer’s delight
According to David, Wasim was a photographer’s delight. Indeed, no other fast bowler in the history of the game can have as beautiful an action and as poetic a delivery stride as Wasim. The seemingly effortless run up in itself was so unique in the sense that he could reduce his run up and at the same time increase his speed in the most remarkable way.
Such was the position of the seam during the release of the ball as if a poet was about to finish a verse of his poetry. The position of his non-bowling arm, the way his knee bended and then the perfect follow through as if nature had decided to gift Wasim to the world of cricket. No wonder David Munden enjoyed photographing Wasim Akram the most.
Wasim was the master of it all. During a one-day game, he bowled a ball to the great Sachin Tendulkar slightly off line around the pads, which the Indian little master flicked for four. Tendulkar was in an aggressive mood that day. Next ball Wasim came with a longer run up and bowled the ball in the same line with just one subtle variation.
He held the ball back in his palm and bowled a slower ball. Tendulkar went for the same shot but the ball took time to reach him, went through his bat and pad and clean bowled the great Indian batsman. The genius of Wasim Akram had made Tendulkar play the shot early.
During the 2003 World Cup, Tendulkar was again in great form and was destroying the Pakistani bowling attack. Wasim deliberately bowled a ball slightly outside off stump and got the desired false shot from Tendulkar, but the fielder spilled the catch. Sachin went on to win the crucial World Cup game for his country and even though Pakistan lost the match, Wasim penned a tribute to Sachin the very next day in a newspaper column. It tells us something about the greatness of Wasim. Wasim got 414 wickets in tests and 502 in ODIs at a time when Pakistan did not have a great slip fielding side.
It would be interesting for a statistician to find out how many catches were dropped off Wasim Akram’s bowling in international cricket. During the World Cup final of 1992, Wasim as a batsman made a late order attack on the English bowling to take Pakistan to a more than respectable total. He then came in as a bowler to remove Botham, Lamb and Lewis to almost single-handedly take his team to victory.
The ball to Botham was a rising delivery from a shorter run up that took an edge off the glove on its way to the wicket keeper. The ball to Allan Lamb skidded and came too early for Lamb to do anything about it. But the ball to Chris Lewis seemed to be an in swinger which at the last minute moved away as if an out swinger. It was genius at work.
Perhaps Wasim was the only bowler ever to bowl a ball that used to come in and then move away at the same time. Allan Border paid the ultimate tribute to Wasim by saying that if he was reborn and returned as a cricketer, he would want to be Wasim Akram. Allan Donald said he never saw anyone swing the ball as late as Wasim Akram.
There were many things special about Wasim’s bowling. He was a master at cleaning up the tail with his perfect yorkers. The unique thing about his bowling was that his guile did not diminish one bit when he bowled fast. The number of hat-tricks he has taken in cricket is testimony to his accuracy.
Defying all odds
In portraying the genius of Wasim Akram, we must not forget his work ethic. In 1997, in the middle of a test series, Wasim was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 30. He defied all logic to play international cricket for another five years. He continued to play world class cricket, and went on to become a legend in his own lifetime. All this despite having to inject himself with insulin three times a day.
It is hard to believe that Wasim is 56 today. Indeed, it is one of the most celebrated birthdays in world cricket. It is said that sport transcends national boundaries and the genius of Wasim Akram does not just belong to Pakistan but to world cricket. Some of this is reflected in his own attitude and kindness.
He has often said that it is his duty to teach any young aspiring fast bowler that approaches him for advice irrespective of his ethnicity or nationality. Those who have knowledge of the cricketing world do know that Wasim Akram has time and again helped Indian fast bowlers.
The great cricket photographer David Munden is no more. He died of Parkinson’s disease. But his words still ring in my ears. According to him, Wasim Akram was a photographer’s delight. Fast bowling is the hardest job in cricket. It’s mainly linked with speed, stamina and hard work. Many in the cricketing world have found it hard to understand why it’s still called ‘The Art of Fast Bowling’. They just need to go back in time and watch visuals of Wasim in action. They will understand why.
Kush Singh @singhkb is founder, The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.
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