Much has been said about Usain Bolt’s admiration of Waqar Younis but it is a little-known fact that Younis himself was a sprinter and a javelin-thrower besides participating regularly in the high-jump and pole-vaulting events in his college days. It is no surprise then that the “Burewalla Express” had the long, rhythmic run up which was as much a terrifying sight for batsmen as were his trademark toe-crushing yorkers.
Here, Younis recalls everything from his penchant for leg-spin bowling, how television coverage aided his Pakistan call up and takes his pick for best bowler out of the current lot while revealing what exactly is wrong with Umar Gul.
Tell us about the early part of your career? How did you make it into the Pakistan side?
I remember I had played only six first class games when I got picked for the Pakistan camp out of the blue. I had done reasonably well, picking up around twenty-seven wickets in those first few matches. I remember Imran was not feeling well at the time, and was not present at the camp. Luckily the Super Wills Cup was going on, and there was a match between United Bank and Delhi XI. Saleem Jaffar got injured, and I got the opportunity to play that game. Imran watched me on TV, and actually came to the ground to watch the end of the game. The very next day, he met me and told me that I will be going to Sharjah next month. Just meeting Imran at the time was enough of an experience for me, but for him to notify me of my selection was just out of this world.
You had an extremely smooth run-up to the crease, an elegant gather, and a perfectly side-on action. Who did you model yourself against?
I don’ t think I tried to copy or emulate any one. I shared a lot of stuff with Wasim, Aqib and Imran but was myself when it came to bowling and my action. First of all, I never thought I would actually play cricket. I was more of an all-round athlete. I was a runner, a javelin thrower, a high jumper and a pole-vaulter in school, and was really into athletics. I used to bowl casual leg-spin, and it was only when somebody saw me bowl fast while living in Abu Dhabi, I was told to concentrate on fast bowling. So in college I bought spikes, and took it up more seriously, but remained true to who I was, and my natural action.
You see many of the modern day fast-bowlers who come on to the scene, with the slim & lanky build that you had, and take a few years to get to their maximum pace. You were fast from the outset though.
Yes. I wasn’t ever taught to bowl line and length though, and feel like coaching is sometimes bad for you as a budding fast bowler. Raw is always good. I remember I bowled extremely waywardly in my first few games, but Imran never told me to hold back, or asked me what I was doing. These days the captain will easily get frustrated and say “What are you doing?...I didn’t pick you for this.” But Imran told me “I picked you to bowl fast” and that’s what I did. It encouraged me a lot to stay true to myself at the beginning of my career.
So you would recommend doing it your way, instead of building your body up for the strains of fast bowling first and concentrating on the basics first?
Listen, you are what you are. Take Junaid Khan for instance, he is extremely raw but you can see that he is succeeding when he is being allowed to be the bowler that he naturally is. Time is the best teacher when it comes to fast bowling, and he will become more and more adept at what he does with the passage of time. You should try to keep away from the biomechanics and all the hassles that come with it. Why is Junaid Khan in the team in the first place? He is from an extremely small town, like me. If you look at my town, you would say “Cricket? Nobody plays cricket here.” But he is still in the team, and I was in the team, based on our natural talents. Which you have to keep with you since that is what you are actually good at, instead of cluttering your approach with other stuff.
You almost patent the reverse-swinging Yorker? Tell us how you perfected it?
The key was a lot of practice of course. But what made it much easier for me being aware of how to reverse swing the ball as a youngster. I knew what it was and practiced it even before coming into the Pakistan international side. This made life in the international side a lot easier, because at the time there were a lot of fast bowlers trying to make it into the team. And to stay ahead of them and to keep myself on track I had to make sure I had the yorker as part of my weaponry and knew how to execute it. To practice I used some thing very similar to the routine Malinga has (putting shoes in the nets and constantly bowling at them). His arm is more slingy, I was more high arm, but to practice for the yorker you have to aim at certain areas and keep repeating it in the nets.
Looking back do you think the injury early on in your career could have been avoided?
I don’t think so. We didn’t have the physiotherapists, the dietitians, and the nutritionists the current players have the luxury to access. And at the age, if you start playing international cricket at the tender age of seventeen, eighteen an injury is almost inevitable, as the bones haven’t developed properly yet. I was lucky that I got it early, and managed to come back strong. And by the time the second major injury came, I was much more experienced and knew how to handle it better.