“If he indeed does follow what he is preaching and if the PCB can preserve him, knowing how integral he will be during the Test Championship, we can all expect a roaring Abbas to grab our attention with his perfect deliveries, and to garner a spot among Pakistan’s fast bowling folklore”
Fast bowling and Pakistan cricket is a legacy intertwined in history. From Wasim Akram’s magical spells that constantly uprooted the stumps of confused batsmen to Waqar Younis’ reverse swinging deliveries or the great man Imran Khan’s smooth bowling that exuded charisma, the Pakistani fan has always prided himself in the plethora of match-winning seamers that gave him bragging rights over India’s poor pool of the same.
Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Zahid and even the giant Mohammad Irfan all were rare talents who emerged but sizzled away all too soon, for reasons many – ranging from injuries, poor form, doping or spot-fixing controversies. The memorable moments of a tall threatening fast bowler delivering their overs with great passion and with their heart on the sleeves is a long lost memory, and what Pakistan unearthed in the last few years were bowlers who were uninspiring and hesitant to break their back.
Barring that spell from Wahab Riaz to Shane Watson in the last World Cup and a few here-and-there spells by Amir after his ban was over, Pakistan had to make do with medium pacers who never quite set the stage on fire. Until an uncomplicated bowler carrying a swag that hardly fit a fast bowler entered the scene.
The one who could just hold the ball in the same manner be it in Dubai or Dublin, bowl with the same run-up and the same length in 15 degrees with overcast conditions or in 40 degrees with unbearable humidity. Sans express pace, he learnt to cramp up the batsman up for room, bowling a tight line near the off stump. Hitting the seam cleanly, reverse swinging with elan and mixing up his lengths, Mohammad Abbas managed to garner the attention of cricket fanatics the world over, who could not stop oohing and aahing as he bamboozled Usman Khawaja – by far the best batsman from Australia in the recent series.
For the uninitiated, a look at his records will display the kind of impact that the player has had in his very short career. Though statistics and figures are often dubiously viewed as they do not proclaim the impact that a player has managed to create – in this scenario, what we see is what we get.
10 matches into his career, the Pakistani has already picked up 50 wickets (the second fastest to do so) and has a stunning average of 15.64, which is the fourth-lowest ever for a bowler with at least 50 scalps to his name. Though he is being compared to South Africa’s Vernon Philander, who had raced away to 63 wickets in 10 games, all of Philander’s wickets came in the SENA nations, where bowling is much easier. Abbas on the other hand has taken 40 wickets in UAE and West Indies combined, which are considered as fast-bowling graveyards. By extracting movement even on the most placid tracks, he has been able to achieve four 5-wicket hauls already in his career, including a 10-wicket match haul in the game at Abu Dhabi.
The bowler Pakistan should wrap in cotton wool
Pakistan need to be cautious. They need to learn from their mistakes in the past and prevent a similar incident from taking place in Abbas’ career. The 28-year old is by no means young and with time, his body is only going to deteriorate as the pressure of leading the attack gets to him. In the recent two-match series, he bowled 76 overs across four innings and the number is only going to increase when the side tours nations like South Africa, New Zealand or Australia.
Learning from Akhtar’s frequent breakdowns, the Pakistan Cricket Board should do well to ensure that Abbas only turns out in the white flannels and is kept away from white-ball cricket – he averages almost 28 in 47 List A games with no five-wicket haul, which indicates that he is a player suited for the Test format and the PCB should regard him as a Test specialist as well.
Amir and Asif destroyed their career by indulging in the spot-fixing saga and though the former marked a thundering return, his form off late has been disappointing and he seems like one more fast bowler who has faded away into the horizon. But Abbas is aware that his predecessors have gone the wrong route and he is certain that he would never indulge in any wrong-doing that could harm his game or bring disrepute to cricket.
“I have played first-class cricket and a lot of things have happened before my eyes,” he said. “I suffered hardships in my life so my focus is on cricket and that has made me mature.
“My focus is only to play cricket and focus on my fitness. I want to keep my feet on the ground. That has been my life. Right or wrong I know where to go.”
If he indeed does follow what he is preaching and if the PCB can preserve him, knowing how integral he will be during the Test Championship, we can all expect a roaring Abbas to grab our attention with his perfect deliveries, and to garner a spot among Pakistan’s fast bowling folklore.