Wasim Akram possessed, what they called, the left hand of God. With more than 900 wickets in an international career spanning nearly 19 years, he is considered among the greatest pacers of all time. His mastery over swing and seam made him a captain’s — and viewer’s — delight.
A match-winner in every sense of the word, the 49-year-old is now passing on his knowledge to youngsters. After working wonders with the likes of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav in Kolkata Knight Riders, he is now thrilled to be appointed director of Islamabad United in the Pakistan Super League. In a freewheeling chat with ‘Sportstar’, Akram talks about everything from the state of cricket in his beloved country to the art of reverse swing, which he says is non-existent.
The following are excerpts from an interview with ‘Sportstar’…
QUESTION: The ninth edition of the Indian Premier League is just a few months away. In fact, every other Test-playing nation has a Twenty20 league of its own. You must be thrilled because Pakistan has finally joined the bandwagon…
ANSWER: Yes, it’s very, very exciting. Not just for me but for the whole country because like India, even Pakistan is crazy about this amazing and historic sport of ours. The Pakistan Super League (PSL) is Najam Sethi’s brainchild. His team has been working tirelessly for six to eight months. PSL will make a huge difference to Pakistan cricket. You know that Pakistan players can’t play in the IPL. Our players haven’t played international cricket at home for so many years. Clearly, our boys lack that exposure. Now with guys like Chris Gayle, Kevin Pietersen, Andre Russell, Shane Watson and other stars set to play in the PSL, Pakistan cricket will evolve. Just as the IPL helped Indian cricket, the PSL will help Pakistan cricket.
QUESTION: How has the lack of international cricket at home impacted Pakistan?
ANSWER: In cricketing terms, it has impacted the game very negatively. Let’s not even talk about the financial impact. When I started playing cricket, I had the good fortune of watching Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Gundappa Viswanath when the Indian team toured Pakistan in 1978-1979 and 1981-82. I saw them play in front of my eyes! This was in Lahore. I was just a teenager. Now, watching your heroes play in flesh and blood is very, very different from watching them on television. It’s a different ball game. In that respect, our cricket has suffered. It has gone back. The PSL, even though it will be played in Dubai, will bring about positive change. You have two or three emerging players in every team. Seven of the 11 players in every team will be Pakistani. And, then, you have the stars. I am sure the Pakistani boys will gain a lot of confidence.
QUESTION: What’s it with Twenty20 leagues mushrooming all over the world? We have a couple for retired players, too!
ANSWER: The one (Cricket All Stars) launched by Sachin (Tendulkar) wasn’t professional cricket, so to speak. It was all about promoting the game (in the United States). I am all for these leagues for retired cricketers, but who’ll watch? As a player, I had my time. Now, it’s about the youngsters. A league for retired cricketers is good for the short term, but I don’t know how feasible it will be in the long term. That said, T20 and T20 leagues are here to stay.
QUESTION: Where do these leagues leave Test cricket, ODI cricket and the whole balance between the formats?
ANSWER: Test cricket is about quality. Like we say, lambi race (long race). It’s about consistency. After that, you can play Twenty20 cricket, which is high-octane action, boom-boom cricket. It is also financially beneficial, too. I am all for it. But I think ODI cricket will struggle. Yes, the 50-over format has its charm, but we need to do something about the period between the 10th and 40th overs. Batsmen look to build the innings and bowlers look to get wickets. Every format has its own charm, but ODI cricket will struggle.
QUESTION: Are you referring to the bilateral ODI series?
ANSWER: Yes, even in Australia, the ODIs weren’t sold out. But the first T20 was played in front of a full house.
QUESTION: How does one bowl on a flat wicket where even 300 is not enough?
ANSWER: It depends on the individual. Myself, Waqar Younis, Anil Kumble, Muttiah Muralitharan and all other great bowlers of the sub-continent bowled on placid wickets all through our careers. We were allowed one bouncer and only one ball was in use. In the recent series between Australia and India, even 300 was not enough. Reverse swing is completely out of the picture. Nobody takes notice. It’s an art and, unfortunately, it has disappeared.
QUESTION: Why has it disappeared?
ANSWER: Nobody is concentrating on that skill. The umpires look concerned when the ball receives a few scratches or cuts after a batsman hits it into the stands. After every big hit, the umpires look to change the ball. So what if the ball has got some cuts? In any case, reverse swing depends on the whole team. If the ball starts to reverse, it’s imperative that the bowler operating from the other end doesn’t fumble with the ball. He has to make sure not to touch the rough side of the ball with his palm. If he does that, the rough side will become softer and softer. And the ball will cease to reverse.
QUESTION: So, should every team have a designated ball shiner?
ANSWER: Yes, absolutely. One player has got to take charge. The moment a fielder gets hold of the ball, he has to give it to the guy entrusted with the task of shining the ball. The guy who shines the ball must not touch the rough side of the ball. He must keep his palm away from the rough side. These technicalities, you know, are important. It’s all about the presence of mind. This, I am sorry to say, is a trait missing in today’s bowlers.
QUESTION: What do you have to say about Jasprit Bumrah?
ANSWER: You guys (in India) go over the moon whenever you see a bowler do well (laughs). I like Bumrah. I saw him in the IPL, too. He must learn how to generate away-swing now. Every batsman knows that he bowls wide of the crease. This means he is likely to bring the ball in on most occasions. So, how does he do something different? Well, he needs to learn the art of generating away-swing. This is the job of the bowling coach. Once he learns to do that, he will get the batsmen to edge the ball. This is the next step in his learning process. The faster he learns it, the better it will be. The thing with Indian bowlers is that they lose the passion and hunger after playing in the IPL. Bumrah is a baccha now. He will also get quicker with time.
QUESTION: Why is it that Pakistan produces great bowlers and India produces great batsmen?
ANSWER: That’s a zillion-dollar question (laughs). Trust me, I don’t have an answer. I guess it’s got to do with the psyche of the public in both countries. In Pakistan, we have a bowler’s psyche. In India, there is a batsman’s psyche. It also depends on the wickets you prepare, your Under-19 culture. In Pakistan, when we spot a tearaway quick, we allow him to bowl fast. We don’t change his action. We don’t feed him too much information. In India, the same bowler will be sent to one academy after another. So, my advice is that you must leave Bumrah alone. Just tell him how to bowl a yorker and how to generate away-swing.
QUESTION: Is Virat Kohli a bowler’s captain?
ANSWER: Yes, he is. He is involved. Even when I was the most experienced bowler in the side, I needed Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar at mid-on or mid-off. I needed them to tell me things, especially when I was doing something wrong. When a bowler gets hit, you have to back him. M. S. Dhoni can’t do that because he is stationed miles away. Virat is always positioned close to his bowler. He has a Plan B.
QUESTION: Who are the five best fast bowlers in the world today?
ANSWER: Dale Steyn, without a doubt. Then there’s Mitchell Starc and James Anderson. In the shorter format, I like to watch Lasith Malinga. Among spinners, I like Pakistan’s Yasir Shah. And on his day, Ravindra Jadeja can be very good.
QUESTION: What about Jadeja do you like the most?
ANSWER: He goes for wickets. He is always looking to attack. He finishes his overs quickly. He doesn’t try too many things. He sticks to his strengths.
QUESTION: Do you think he is capable of becoming a genuine all-rounder provided he works on his batting?
ANSWER: Yes. He is a tremendous fielder anyway. When it comes to batting, he must concentrate on his shot selection in the nets.
QUESTION: Finally, what do you have to say about Mohammad Amir?
ANSWER: Look, the kid has spent time in jail. He was banned for five years. He has done whatever the International Cricket Council asked him to do. I am all for him playing for Pakistan because he is still the best bowler in our country. Yes, he made a mistake, but he has already paid for his actions. It’s important that we move on.