The left-arm angle has always been much-coveted to have in the arsenal of a bowling attack. Captains just crave to have a left-arm pacer at their disposal to change things in a match. The natural swing of a left-arm pace into the right-hander makes him a devastating prospect for the batsmen.
Even if the ball is not doing much in the air or off the wicket, the angle, going away all the time from the left-arm makes the stroke harder. The most striking thing about left-arm bowlers is their scarcity; whether in domestic or international cricket.
Batsmen aren’t accustomed to facing them, which makes them ever-so-valuable. It was probably Alan Davidson who made the left-arm angle fashionable in the game.
In the 1950s, he cast his magic with big curving inswingers to right-handers at a threatening pace.
Then, it was left to the iron man of cricket to showcase his left-arm fast-medium skills in the 1960s and ’70s. Sir Garfield Sobers could have done just anything alluring with a ball or a ball in hand, like the so many fascinating things he did on the field, he gave a go to swinging it around while opening the bowling for the West Indies. But that was overshadowed by his exquisite batting skills and due to the fact that he bowled everything from left-arm finger spin to the chinaman alongside left-arm medium fast.
Lord of the lefties Still, cricket was lacking a poster boy in terms of left-arm pace that young southpaws could look up to. Enter Wasim Akram, and boy what a hero he turned out to be! He was discovered quite bizarrely, but then again, this is how things work in Pakistan cricket. For the next two decades, Wasim Akram flabbergasted the world of cricket with his talent. Starting as a reverse swing merchant, he did everything with the ball that one can imagine doing, scrambling in from a mere 12 paces. A quick whip of the arms, and there she went; defying all the laws of fluid dynamics, curling it either way to the shock of batsmen everywhere.
Over the years, he waylaid the batting orders, making mincemeat of them. Wasim took advantage of his left-arm angle with impeccable control with both new as well as old balls. He was a true protagonist for left-arm bowlers around the world.
Dead weight After Wasim, Pakistan found it almost impossible to resist the lure of having a left-arm bowler in its attack. Among the very few left-arm bowlers hovering around in the domestic circuit at the time, the selectors threw a young rookie, Mohammad Khalil, who had the experience of just six first-class matches, in the deep end of international cricket for the series against the touring Bangladesh in 2003. But he never got to play a game then. For the tour of Australia in 2004, he was in the squad again.
He had no ‘setting the stage-on-fire’ sort of record to show for his selection. However, Khalil found himself receiving the Test cap straight away in the first Test at Perth. It turned out to be an obnoxious debut as he failed to get any wickets on the lively Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) pitch. Ironically, he never looked like getting one, at any point in his spell. After the emphatic opening bursts of Shoaib and Sami on the opening morning to leave Australia reeling at 78 for 5, Khalil lacked both the penetration and the persistence to back them up. As a result, Australia were let off the hook and posted a mammoth total to squeeze out any chances for Pakistan in the game.
In hindsight, had the right-arm Mohammad Asif debuted on the bouncy Perth wicket, it could have been a different story altogether. As it turned out, Asif debuted at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), later in the series on a parched track to go wicket-less. He had to wait another year to play his next Test.
Out of sheer desperation of having a left-arm bowler in the side, Pakistan persisted with Khalil in the hope of better shows in the ODIs in Australia. He was much better than what he was in the Perth Test but still a long way from becoming the bowler desired by the Pakistan cricket team. Due to the injustices to key fast bowlers and absurd selections, he got yet another nod in Test cricket. But his lack of control and pace on the placid batting track of Eden Gardens in Kolkata, India, in 2005, was the last straw.
One-match wonder After another debacle in the 2007 World Cup, Pakistan cricket looked to pick itself up from the lowest ebb in history. Najaf Shah was one of the newcomers in the side in the series against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi. The tall left-arm quickie impressed one and all on his debut. He had a bit of pace and laudable movement and lift from a typical absolutely stale wicket in the desert. Ironically, he turned out to be a one-match wonder and never got a chance after that day.
A short stint Sohail Tanvir burst onto the scene in the inaugural World T20 in South Africa, with his peculiar action, he was in the limelight from the word go. Tanvir and his rollicking Yorkers have opened the flood gates for left-arm pacers in Pakistan cricket. We now have every type of left-arm seamer that one can imagine, with all sorts of actions. Even in height, they vary from short to the outrageously tall. The various breeds of left-arm fast bowlers here can be compared with the herds available in the goat, sheep and cattle market before Eidul Azha.
After early success, Sohail Tanvir now has a fading career due to wrong-footed action. He struggles towards steadiness. He was drafted into the Test side following the injuries to Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul back in 2008 but the lack of the extra wheels and the accuracy short-lived that stint. Now it looks as if he is only considered for T20 games.
A talent wasted Mohammad Amir made a dream debut in Pakistan’s World T20 triumph in 2009. He was a ‘once-in-a-generation talent’ and had just about everything in his armory that a fast bowler can crave for — raw pace, immaculate control, and most importantly the ability to swing both the old and the new ball — making him a perfect package. Pakistan has not had a better new-ball bowler of such a tender age. Even the great Wasim Akram took some time to come to terms with the new ball.