Jhat cricket as a sport encourages batsmen, bowlers and outfielders to show off their skills, just states the obvious.
What’s less obvious is that it’s also a sport that encourages writers and commentators to discuss the nuances of the game. What’s perhaps completely overlooked is the great joy and reach of photographers that cover this game.
One of the best in this category was the great David Munden. David, a left-handed batsman and leg thrower, represented Leicester Cricket Club’s Second XI. After his playing days, he took up photography and became one of cricket’s greatest photographers. I met David in 1993 during the Benson & Hedges Cup final between Lancashire and Leicester.
I had assumed that David had come to support his club, but surprisingly that was not the case. He had come to take pictures of a Pakistani bowler who was bowling for Lancashire. The bowler has just bowled seven overs and conceded just 10 runs, and in the process has taken five wickets. It was none other than the “Sultan of Swing” Wasim Akram.
During my conversation with David, he told me that out of all the photographs he took of all the great cricketers, he liked his photographs of Wasim Akram the most.
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The happiness of a photographer
According to David, Wasim was a photographer’s delight. Indeed, no other fast bowler in the history of the game can have such a beautiful action and such a poetic stride as Wasim. The seemingly effortless run in itself was so unique in the sense that he could reduce his run and at the same time increase his speed in the most remarkable way.
Such was the position of the seam when releasing the ball as if a poet was about to finish a line of his poetry. The position of his non-bowling arm, the way his knee bent, and then the perfect tracking as if nature had decided to gift Wasim to the cricketing world. No wonder David Munden had the most fun photographing Wasim Akram.
Wasim was the master of everything. During a one-day match, he threw a ball to tall Sachin Tendulkar slightly off-line around the pads, which the little Indian master grazed for four. Tendulkar was in an aggressive mood that day. The next ball, Wasim, came with a longer stroke and threw the ball down the same line with just one subtle variation.
He held the ball in his palm and played a slower ball. Tendulkar went for the same shot but the ball was slow to reach him, went through his bat and pad and beat the big Indian batsman. Wasim Akram’s genius had Tendulkar play the shot early.
In the 2003 World Cup, Tendulkar was again in great form and destroyed Pakistan’s bowling attack. Wasim deliberately threw a ball slightly outside the stump and got Tendulkar’s desired fake shot, but the defender reversed the hold. Sachin won the crucial World Cup game for his country and even though Pakistan lost the match, Wasim wrote a tribute to Sachin the very next day in a newspaper column. This tells us something about Wasim’s greatness. Wasim got 414 wickets in Tests and 502 in ODIs at a time when Pakistan didn’t have a big field team.
It would be interesting for a statistician to know how many catches were made while bowling Wasim Akram in international cricket. In the 1992 World Cup Final, Wasim as a batsman launched a late attack on English bowling to bring Pakistan to a more than respectable tally. He then came on as a bowler to knock out Botham, Lamb and Lewis to almost single-handedly lead his team to victory.
The ball to Botham was an increasing delivery from a shorter run that took advantage over the glove on its way to the wicketkeeper. The ball to Allan Lamb skidded and came too soon for Lamb to do anything about it. But the ball to Chris Lewis appeared to be a swinger who at the last minute walked away as if it were a swinger. It was genius at work.
Wasim was perhaps the only bowler to have bowled a ball that went in and out at the same time. Allan Border paid the final tribute to Wasim saying that if he was reborn and came back as a cricketer, he would want to be Wasim Akram. Allan Donald said he had never seen anyone swing the ball as late as Wasim Akram.
There were a lot of special things about Wasim’s bowling alley. He was a master at clearing the line with his perfect yorkers. The peculiarity of his bowling game was that his trickery did not decrease at all when he played fast. The number of hat tricks he has scored in cricket is testament to his accuracy.
Defying all the odds
In portraying the genius of Wasim Akram, one should not overlook his work ethic. In 1997, amid a series of tests, Wasim was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 30. He defied all logic to play international cricket for another five years. He went on to play world class cricket and became a legend during his lifetime. All this while he had to inject insulin three times a day.
It’s hard to believe Wasim is 56 today. Indeed, it is one of the most celebrated anniversaries in world cricket. The sport is said to transcend national boundaries and the genius of Wasim Akram does not belong only to Pakistan but to world cricket. This is partly reflected in his own attitude and kindness.
He has often said that it is his duty to teach any aspiring young fast bowler who approaches him for advice, regardless of ethnicity or nationality. Those who know the world of cricket know that Wasim Akram has helped India’s fast bowlers time and time again.
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 delight for photographers. Fast bowling is the toughest job in cricket. It’s mostly related to speed, stamina, and hard work. Many in the world of cricket have struggled to understand why it is still called “The Art of Fast Bowling”. They just need to step back in time and watch some visuals of Wasim in action. They will understand why.
Kush Singh @singhkb is the founder of The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.
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