“THE TWO Ws” came to the cricketing world stage when there was a stiff competition amongst some of the best seamers around the world. There were Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Allan Donald, Kapil Dev, Glenn Mcgrath to name a few who made life look even tougher for batsmen in the decade of 1990-1999. In that decade people used to enjoy watching these bowlers bowl, sometimes even more than watching batsmen bat. Right from their runups to the delivery, there were spectators expecting a sound of timber on every ball bowled. We have seen almost every batsman inventing a new shot every now and then or unknowingly playing one which becomes popular. But it takes a lot of practise to invent a particular ball which pitches right onto that sweet spot and mastering that invention is even more outstanding. Both Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis did exactly that. They not only partly invented the reverse swing which was originally a component of Sarfraz Nawaz but later went on to master that art much to the amazement of some English who attributed this weapon as ball tampering not knowing that 15 years down the line they would be winning the Ashes using the same art.
Wasim Akram made his Test cricket debut for Pakistan against New Zealand in 1985 and in only his second Test match, he acquired 10 wickets in the match. A few weeks prior to his selection into the Pakistan team, he was an unknown club cricketer who had failed to even make it to his college team. His potential was dicovered by non other than Javed Miandad during the usual trials and was immediately included into the national side, completely bypassing any domestic First-class competition during that period.
Waqar’s talent was discovered by Imran Khan. Waqar Younis made his International cricket debut for Pakistan against India on 15 November 1989, which was also the very first match of Sachin Tendulkar. Younis took 4 wickets in the drawn match including the wickets of Tendulkar and Kapil Dev. Both of them earned nick names very early in their careers. Waqar was given the nick name of “Wiki” or the “Burewala Express” and Wasim the “Sultan of Swing” by the cricket media.
Younis along with Wasim Akram started opening the bowling attack regularly for Pakistan, thereby becoming a feared and potent attack. They both had different styles of bowling and their own theories. Wasim believed in containing the batsman, pitching the ball in the good length areas and as a result of that capturing his wickets due to that accuracy. On the contrary Waqar believed that only taking wickets will lower the runrate of the opposition. Due to these theories Wasim concentrated more on accuracy while Waqar on aggression, overpitching the bowl so as to seduce the batsman. As a result of which Waqar was sometimes expensive because of his extremely optimistic nature of getting a wicket on every ball making his bowling figures look shabby and high on economy rate. Their economy rate in both tests and one days gives us a clear picture of their approach.
In tests Waqar’s economy rate is 3.25 while Wasim was parsimonious as far as economy rate is concerned which is 2.59. In one-days the economy rate of Waqar is 4.68 in contrast to 3.89 of Wasim Akram. Younis has the best strike rate amongst the bowlers who have taken more than 200 wickets in tests which again is because of his attitude of taking wicket every ball. Waqar used to take wicket in every 43.4 balls in tests while Wasim’s strike rate in tests is 54.6. In one-days Waqar has a strike rate of 30.5 in contrast to Wasim’s 36.2.
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Both have had their share of injuries early on their careers. A groin injury impeded Wasim’s career in the late 1980s. Following two surgeries, he re-emerged in the 1990s as a fast bowler who focused more on swing and accurate bowling. Waqar suffered an injury when he had cut and removed his little finger on his left hand, after he had jumped into a canal. He recovered from this accident and went on to continue his sporting career. Akram was also diagnosed with diabetes at the peak of his career, but despite the initial psychological blow, he managed to regain his form and went on to produce fine cricketing performances. Since then he has actively sought to be involved in various awareness-raising campaigns for diabetes.The sheer dedication and love for the game that these two greats have shown is an example of how one can cross all barriers to achieve one’s aim.
While Waqar cherished home conditions more as compared to away games in both formats of the game, however it seems to be other way round as far as Wasim Akram is concerned. Waqar has a gud average of 20.29 in Tests and 23.14 in ODIs played at home as compared to an ordinary average of 25.96 in Tests and 26.45 ODIs played away from home. While Akram has a better average of 22.22 at home than 24.61 at foreign venues in tests, he seems to have enjoyed away games more in ODIs as his average at home is 31.12 in contrast to 23.89 in away games.
Akram was also skilled with the bat and was regarded as a bowling all-rounder. He was especially effective against spin bowlers. However, he liked to slog and was criticised for his lack of high scores and giving away his wicket too cheaply for a player of his talent. He did silence his critics and the media in October 1996 when he scored 257 runs not out of the team’s total of 553 against Zimbabwe at Sheikhupura. He also achieved good scores for the Pakistan team such as his 123 runs against Australia and his 45 runs not out to take Pakistan to victory in a low scoring match. He was also a valuable member to the Pakistan side, such as his match winning performance in the Nehru Cup, when needing six runs and two balls to win the match, he hit the first delivery he faced for six runs and secured the Cup.We just cannot compare Akram and Waqar on the basis of their batting as Akram was definitely the better batsman. Akram’s batting average of 22.64 in tests says a lot about his potential as a batsman but he never considered himself as an all-rounder and kept concentrating on his main weapon with the red cherry.
Both the players were involved in some controversies over the years. In 1992, after Akram had been successful against the English batsmen, accusations of ball tampering began to appear in the English media, though no video evidence of foul play was ever found. Akram and Younis had been able to obtain prodigious amounts of movement from both new and old cricket balls. The skill of the reverse swing delivery was relatively unknown in England and around the cricketing world during that period. A far larger controversy was created when critics alleged that he was involved in match fixing. In July 2000 Younis became the first cricketer to be banned for ball tampering and was fined 50% of his match fee. In the World Cup Qarter Final match, India vs Pakistan, Wasim Akram suffered from the stomach cramps and was not able to play and Pakistan lost the quarter finals to India. Fans all over pakistan were after Akram’s life and alleged that it was due to match fixing that he did not play.
There has been some controversy about his date of birth and age. According to ESPN cricinfo sports, Younis was born in 1969 and others including Yahoo! Cricket and CricketArchive claims he was born in 1971.These controversies didnt deter them from being legends of the game and probably two finest exponents of reverse swing bowling.
The pressure of captaincy never affected their performance. But their performances deteriorated under each other’s captaincy. There were some conflicts between them, both on as well as off the field. Some regarded it has nothing to do with the internal matters, it was a positive sign that both the players wanted to outshine each other’s performance “which would have eventually benefit the team” but there was more to it than just that. During the early periods of 2000, Waqar even stayed out of the Pakistan team for a brief period allegedly due to suspension and conflicts with bowling partner and captain Wasim Akram. Inspite of all the differences they kept on playing for the team and performed well too. While Waqar’s average drops down to 28 under Wasim’s captaincy, Wasim’s average dwindles to 61 in Tests but Wasim played only 4 tests under Younis.
Players like Sourav Ganguly, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar consider Akram as one of the best bowler they have ever faced. Brain lara went on to say-“Over my 15 or 16 years of playing international cricket in Tests and One Day Internationals, Wasim Akram is definitely the most outstanding bowler I’ve ever faced”.
Sourav Ganguly was so fascinated by Akram that he always wanted to have him as the bowling coach for India, during the former’s stint as Indian captain. Waqar has been under rated as a bowler.
Today, Cricket is more about things like” mongoose bat”, “split innings”, “T20” etc than that devastating bowling. Even the ICC has kept on favouring batsmen.They have negated the reverse swing in ODIs as after 34 overs the bowl changes which is comparitively new. And with the advent of so much of T20s we are no longer watching the contest between the bat and the bowl. Its batting Vs batting from both the opposition
It was their patnership that was the best and used to bring jitters to the batsman. Few can forget that slinging action of theirs and inswinging yorkers which were just unplayable.These two “Ws” brought a never-say-die attitude in their players and have won some impossible matches out of nowhere. They have proved that bowling is the most important aspect of cricket and even if a side has a mediocre batting line up they can win matches and can win consistently enough. That attitude is no more in any team now. It will be difficult for a team to groom such magnificent talents at one time. Both of them were great in their own way.