“The devastating and the dynamic pair with more than effective skills did the part on a note of animosity, but for the cricket lovers, their on-field performances leave behind much memories and nostalgia”.
For most cricketing fanatics, there is just no sight more beautiful than a fast bowler speeding down the field – the new ball in hand, ready to rip apart the opposition batsmen. No sight can be more pleasing that, watching a hardworking figure vent out all of his emotions and his aggression on the red cherry, as he targets the stumps behind the batsmen. 140kmph. Zipping through the ears. The rival at the other end, stunned and puzzled. And a shriek of joy thereafter as the stumps have finally been uprooted – somersaulting its way to the boundary, as the bowler in question runs around like a wild gazillion.
The beauty of Test cricket remains in the ability off the pace bowlers to stun the opponents and the contrasting image of a volatile pacer up against a calm and level-headed batter is a contest for the ages. If one bowler can strike such terror, one can only imagine what fear a bowling pair an inflict upon the rival teams. Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock and Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie were some of the best bowling pairs in recent memory but none quite ever to leave a legacy like the one Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis managed to stamp in the cricketing arena.
In 191 Tests and 618 ODIs together, the duo claimed 1705 wickets and though figures are numbers might impress, their art and the way they went about bowling is what set them apart. Wasim and Waqar – the two famed Ws in modern cricket, complemented each other perfectly with Wasim being one of the most dangerous left-handers to have graced the game and Waqar, with his full-tilt and his catapulting action giving company to his senior teammate with élan. Together, a sea of change rode through the fast-bowling world with their arrival – from naked aggression and short-pitched bowling, the trend was to bring in more variations, whilst keeping a stump-to-stump line.
Waqar’s yorkers and Wasim’s skill to move the ball in every direction with the old-ball through the skill of reverse-swing made the two Pakistanis a real threat. It all started in the summer of 1992 in England, when the sporting arena sat staring the successes the two garnered with the old ball. Was it through illegal means? Were the Pakistanis indulging in ball tampering? How were they being able to achieve so much of a late movement through the air at such a pace otherwise? True, many bowlers in the history managed to achieve late swing, but none had ever received so much help with the movement.
On that tour, the nine games played between the two fetched 43 wickets – almost 61% of the wickets that fell to the Pakistani bowlers on that tour. They took a wicket every 7.79 overs or in every 46.72 balls. The fingers of suspicion started pointing when Javed Miandad, Pakistan’s captain refused to take the second new-ball on most occasions and when the English team faced 5 astonishing collapses with a ball that was more than 50-over old, it was but natural to doubt foul play.
In the Lord’s Test, England succumbed to 255 all out from 197 for three in the first innings, and 108 for two to 175 all out in the second. In the next game at Headingley, England collapsed from 270 for one to 320 all out. At Oval, the trend continued – from 182 for three to 207 in the first and from 153 for five to 174 for ten in the second. All in all, they lost almost 221 runs for the loss of 36 wickets, with Wasim and Waqar picking up 24 of those 36. With the destruction taking place when the ball was older and with a less prominent seam, the art of reverse-swing bowling was slowly but surely being introduced to the world.
With Waqar in particular, the ball was not held loosely by the first two fingers and a thumb but was held in place in the palm of the hand. This loose grip allowed him to hit the seam more often and extract more swing, which a tight grip would not have allowed. With the Pakistanis keeping one side of the ball smooth, instead of highly polished, and the other roughened, they ensured that the smooth side was heavier due to wetting – either through saliva, spit or sweat, which is totally legal a process. Though did this help in the ball swinging in an opposite direction, it must be remembered that reverse-swing, especially the one that was perfected by Wasim and Waqar, is not only about the weight of the ball. It is much more.
Not only does the ball have to be held correctly, it also needs to be bowled at the perfect yorker-length. Most bowlers are unable to bowl at 80mph, yet alone bowl the yorker length consistently at that pace, so the impact anyway is reduced. If a ball is bowled at a good length delivery, then the ball does not have much time to get help from the smooth side. Only when the ball travels till the yorker-length area and the pace reduces, does the ball start getting help from the heavier side.
Here, the position of the arm and the hand is of utmost importance. With neither Wasim nor Waqar having a high arm action, the default mode of delivery is close to the stumps. Waqar thus, with a dropped right arm, could easily target the right-hander’s off-stump and at this angle, the reverse swing became unplayable.
It was this art that helped them to finish with an average of 22.39 – and even though they are third on the new-ball bowling average, behind Joel Garner-Malcolm Marshall and Donald-Pollock, they played almost 246 more games than the West Indian pair and 130 more than the South African. The devastating and the dynamic pair with more than effective skills did the part on a note of animosity, but for the cricket lovers, their on-field performances leave behind much memories and nostalgia.