The Sultans of Swing – Wasim and Waqar
Sport is a wonderful thing. Throughout history society has always given importance to feats and wizardry in action. Whether that is the larger than life gladiator or a battle hardened storyteller. Sport was borne out of this very idea but perfected, if we may, by the trickling education of society as a whole. So at the bare minimum, sport is the same gladiator-spectacle except much more civilised.
Cricket is one of those sports, and few would argue that its greatest entertainers came in the form of two forerunners who dared to perfect a hidden art. Swing bowling. The two Ws were an inspiration to a generation that would take cricket to a new age. Of course there were many fast bowlers before them that rightly held the accolade of being number one. Micheal Holding was a silent killer, Curtly Ambrose rose on you like a mountain with legs, Glenn McGrath was the king of scalps, all-rounders like Sir Ian Botham and Imran Khan consistently carried their teams, and even Sydney Barnes who is credited to be one of the first to take bounce and combine it with swing. All of them were inspirations for Waqar and Wasim that would form one of the deadliest fast-bowling attack in cricket. Today, their names are synonymous to swing, yorkers, and bustling wickets.
Wasim is a World Cup winner and legend. There are few bowlers out their who could match the delivery to his short but effective run up. Wasim ran in like a tiger stalking its prey that accelerates in at the last seconds before going for the kill. The result would be a ball concealing action delivery that would victimise the batsman to deadly affect. His bounce was nothing to scoff about and his arsenal consisted of a dangerous slower deliver. Wasim’s consistency was unmatched, taking 500 ODI wickets (second only to Muralitharan) and twenty-three 4-wicket hauls in 356 matches. He was the first bowler to take 400 wickets in both forms of the game, a feat who again only Muralitharan has achieved. And is considered to be one of the founders and perhaps the finest exponent of reverse swing. His complete mastery on swing and seam made him one of the greatest bowlers in cricket history. The cherry on the cake was his batting. A whopping 257 not out in tests with 12 sixes is still a record by a number eighth batsman. Wasim Akram was truly world class and we were fortunate to have him.
Waqar came into the fray much later. If deception and effectiveness was Wasim’s speciality, Waqar’s was blistering pace and a knack of breaking toes with his love for reverse swing. He still holds the record for best strike rate of any bowler with over 350 Test wickets. He might have lost a finger after jumping into a canal, but the Burewala Express would not be held back from terrorizing batsmen. His run up was audaciously long. His action was smooth with an extended front leg followed by a delivery that toppled batsmen to the floor, literally. Brian Lara would confess to that. And he made his Test debut in the same match that Sachin Tendulkar did and picked up 4 wickets along with Kapil Dev’s as well as Tendulkar’s. Wickets came bundling in for Waqar. He has taken the most number of five wicket hauls (13), is the only bowler to have taken 5 wickets in 3 consecutive ODIs, and was the fastest to 50, 300, 350, and 400 wickets in terms of deliveries bowled. Waqar epitomised aggression and speed so much so, that the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, has remarked that “Waqar Younis was one of the greatest bowlers ever, and I was a bowler so I really enjoyed watching him. I was a big Pakistan fan.”
Pakistan was truly blessed with these two bowlers and had it not been for the squabbles and conflicts between these two greats, who knows how much further they could’ve gone as a dynamic duo. But for now, let us remember them as the perfected soul of Pakistani bowling. Fast, swinging, and unforgiving.