Pakistan’s fast bowling production line was at its most potent in the 90s with one speedster followed by another, each equipped with a bustling run, reverse-swinging yorkers and the surprise bouncer. The supply seemed endless and most in the national cricket circles took it for granted.
There was a brief lull before the emergence of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, and together with Umar Gul, it seemed like the trio were set to carry the mantle for sometime. England 2010 brought an abrupt end to those hopes and even though the now-injured Gul has made a sustained attack in the last five years, the other prospects have come and gone.
The situation after Pakistan’s tour of South Africa was such that it prompted chief selector Iqbal Qasim to declare that ‘Pakistan were facing a fast-bowling crisis’. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) also sprang into action and with the Champions Trophy around the corner, it set up a 10-day fast bowlers’ camp at the National Stadium, Karachi, under the supervision of one of the greats of the game the former captain Wasim Akram.
Leading fast bowlers from different parts of the country honed their skills at the camp, these include the tallest cricketer ever Mohammad Irfan, the left-arm pacers Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz and all-rounders Sohail Tanvir and Hammad Azam.
One of the trainees at the camp was Karachi’s fast bowling all-rounder Anwar Ali, the right-arm pacer found his place in the national team for the Indian tour last December, however, did not feature in any match there, since than he has been rather inexplicably side-lined and also failed to win a berth in the Champions Trophy squad.
Despite the setbacks, Anwar remains confident of breaking into the national team soon and he feels that working with Akram has helped develop his skills further.
“The camp has been tremendous experience for all of us; I had a great time too and learnt things that I had no idea about despite playing first-class cricket regularly for the last five years.”
Anwar is renowned for his booming inswingers and his performance in the 2006 U19 World Cup final against India propelled him into the limelight. The ‘banana inswing’ sent the Indians packing and one felt that there was another fast bowling prodigy ready to shine on the world stage.
Unfortunately though, things haven’t been that rosy for Anwar since 2006 and he had to wait for two years to make an international appearance.
It was in 2008 when he played his only international to date, a T20 against Zimbabwe in Canada. His youthful exuberance worked against him and Anwar was more like a deer caught in the headlights in the instant form of the game.
Five years down the line, Anwar has become a steady first-class performer, notching up a tally of 275 wickets in 75 matches with no less than 17 five-wicket hauls in his career. However, he averages less than four wickets per match which is an indication that Anwar has had some extremely good and some equally ordinary days in the longer format of the game.
At the camp, though, Anwar rubbed shoulders with the best fast bowling talent in the country and feels there has been an improvement in his game already.
“I approached Wasim bhai for some tips on bowling outswingers, my strength over the years has remained my booming inswing but Wasim bhai was keen on helping me develop an outswinger too. He has taught me a new grip, I have been using that grip since the camp started and have been working on it since.”
Anwar was also proud of the blisters that the new grip has given his index and middle fingers.
“The blisters are there since these parts of my fingers were never used in gripping the ball, however, with time, the pain will ease off and of course a potent outswinger is set to bring rich hauls of wickets Inshallah.”
Anwar also received batting tips from Akram who himself scored three Test hundreds including a monumental unbeaten innings of 257 against Zimbabwe in 1996.
“Wasim Bhai told me that it is of extreme importance to occupy the crease for long durations, he asked me to play with a straight bat and treat the bowling on its merit.”
The 25-year-old right-hander has one first-class century under his belt and is keen on improving this aspect of the game too. He realizes that there is a real need for a genuine all-rounder in the national team and if he improves his batting his chances of winning a berth increase manifold.
Meanwhile, Wasim himself had good words to say for Anwar at the end of the camp and identified him as a talented prospect who needs to be given confidence.
“Anwar is a talented kid, his strength was his inswing but he has lost it due to some substandard coaching. I taught him a new grip and now he is making the ball swing away like a banana. Besides his bowling he is a great fielder and a handy batsman, all in all a great athlete who has a bright future.”
The hope is that Anwar’s bright future is utilized and not wasted by inconsistent selection, he has already lost out on five years since making his international debut and if the trend continues for a year or two more, the talented bowler may not set alight cricketing fields ala 'that spell’ against the Indian teenagers seven years ago.