Pakistani balls!

Published April 24, 2014
Pakistan's frailties with the bat meant that it had to always conjure up some magic with the ball.
Pakistan's frailties with the bat meant that it had to always conjure up some magic with the ball.

Former Pakistan cricket captain and ace batsman, Zaheer Abbas, recently lamented that right from the moment Pakistan achieved international cricket status (in 1952), its batting has been its weakest link.

Even a cursory look at the record of Pakistan teams across the last many decades would suggest that Abbas is correct in his claim and that a majority of victories enjoyed by the Pakistan cricket teams (in Tests, ODIs and T20s) have largely been initiated by impressive bowling feats.

May be that is why Pakistan has been in the forefront of not only producing a string of some exceptional fast, swing and spin bowlers, but more importantly, has introduced and pioneered innovations (even inventions) of bowling styles and deliveries that were once unheard of (and never before seen) in international cricket.

Leading examples in this respect include ‘reverse swing’ and the ‘doosra.’

Nobody’s sure exactly who coined the term reverse swing, but it first appeared in the British media during Pakistan’s tour of England in 1992.

Reverse swing is when a fast bowler is able to swing the old ball. Technically the ball should only swing when it’s new, but when Pakistani fast bowlers like Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Aaqib Javed began running through the English batting line-up (during the 1992 series) with the old ball, the British media first accused them of ‘tampering with the old, worn out ball (to achieve swing)’, before saner heads like famous Australian commentator and cricket expert, Ritchie Benaud, revealed how the Pakistan bowlers were swinging the old ball.

Just before the fifth Test in the 1992 series, Benaud interviewed Pakistani captain, Javed Miandad (for BBC TV). Miandad explained that reverse swing can be achieved by keeping one side of the ball as new as possible (through vigorous polishing using cricket clothing, sweat and spit), while letting the other side degrade.

Miandad also suggested that Pakistani bowlers had been using this technique for over a decade and it is only when bowlers like Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram became such lethal exponents of this technique that the cricket world woke up to what the Pakistani bowlers were up to.

Across the 1990s and good part of the 2000s, Pakistan remained the leading exponent of reverse swing. But after 2003, fast and swing bowlers of other Test playing nations had begun to master the technique as well and the art of reverse swing bowling began to be seen as a science!

Miandad was right to suggest that reverse swing was not something that Pakistani fast men like Waqar and Wasim had invented in 1992. It is another former Pakistani swing bowler, Sarfraz Nawaz, who has been established as being the pioneer of reverse swing bowling.

Sarfraz made his Test debut in 1969 and by the mid-1970s had consolidated his position in the team as its premier break-through bowler. Though a mercurial character (and a ‘party animal’ off the field), Sarfraz was considered to be Pakistan’s best new-ball bowler who got prodigious swing from the shining new ball.

For example during the 1975 World Cup in England, he proved his swing-bowling prowess when he cleaned up the top order of a strong West Indian team …

Sarfraz Nawaz | Edgbaston, 1975

After his fast bowling partners, Asif Masood and Salim Altaf, began to lose form, Nawaz quickly developed an effective fast bowling partnership with a young Imran Khan.

Nawaz was at his peak in 1977, but as Khan was getting quicker, Nawaz began to slow down his pace and concentrate on line and length. It was at this point that he began applying a technique of swinging the old ball that he had first learned while playing for the Punjab University in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

At first the technique did not pay much dividend in international cricket, but by 1979 he finally managed to master it when he destroyed the Australians (in Melbourne), grabbing 9 for 86 in Australia’s second innings. Almost all of his wickets came with the old ball.

Pakistan (captained by Mushtaq Mohammed) had set Australia 381 to win. Pakistan was expected to win the game, but the Australian batsmen took the score to 304 (for 3) after tea on the fifth day. Australia now needed just 71 runs and still had eight wickets in hand.

But as Pakistan now faced certain defeat, Sarfraz began to swing the old ball. Within a matter of a few overs he reduced Australia from being 304 for 3 to 310 all out!

He took 7 wickets in this period of play for just 1 run. Bowling from a short run-up, Nawaz bamboozled the Australian batsmen (and commentators) by prodigiously swinging the old ball both ways. He had invented reverse swing.

Sarfraz Nawaz | Melbourne, 1979

Sarfraz Nawaz | Melbourne, 1979

Though Sarfraz knew what he had invented, surprisingly not much debate took place in Australia about how he had managed to swing the old ball so much. Sarfraz soon passed on his invention to his younger bowling partner, Imran Khan.

In 1979, Khan had risen to become the third fastest bowler in the world (behind Australia’s Jeff Thomson and Michael Holding of the West Indies). By 1981, Khan was finally getting the grip of bowling reverse swing and since he was much quicker in pace than Sarfraz, he was also expecting to do much more damage to unsuspecting batting line-ups.

Khan first showed glimpses of this during Pakistan’s 1981 tour of Australia where Khan was occasionally able to move the old ball.

During the first Test in Perth, he set-up Australian captain and prolific batsman, Greg Chappell, when he first bowled conventional deliveries with the old ball, before slipping in a fast in-swinging yorker that Chappell was expecting to be just a low full toss …

Imran Khan | Perth, 1981

Though Sarfraz had been able to move the old ball both ways, Khan’s speed helped him devise a quick in-dipping yorker (that moved in late in the air) and an equally fast in-cutter that it seemed would harmlessly pass the batman and end up in the wicketkeeper’s glove, but would surprise the batsman by coming in sharply after hitting the pitch.

Khan picked up 40 wickets during Pakistan’s 1982-83 series against India. He was the most lethal during the second Test in Karachi where he picked up 11 wickets in the match. A bulk of these wickets came with the old ball, as he kept baffling the Indian batsmen by sharply bringing the old ball in.

His dismissal of great Indian batsman, Gundappa Viswanath, in the second innings is a case in point.

Bowling at over 90 mph, Khan bowled a fast ball that Viswanath thought would hit the pitch and leave him. He stylishly raised his bat to let the ball whizz past him. Instead, it hit the deck and rocketed back to clean bowl the batsman. He was stunned.

Imran Khan | Karachi, 1982

Khan retained his pace even after coming back from a long injury in 1985. By then, he had mastered bringing in the old ball in numerous ways. For example, during Pakistan’s 1987 series against England (in England), he exhibited he could even sharply bring in a bouncer.

The ball would lift off the wicket like a conventional bouncer but would come in with great pace not allowing the batsman to sway away because even if he did, the bouncer would chase him, getting his bat or glove …

Imran Khan | Leeds, 1987

Just like Sarfraz, Khan openly shared the technique of reverse swing with fellow Pakistani bowlers. It all depended on the capability of the bowler and whether he was skilful enough to use it effectively.

But interestingly, before he passed on the skill to men like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed, he (rather non-seriously), passed on some of his conventional new-ball bowling techniques to batting all-rounder, Mudassar Nazar.

Nazar was known more for his (opening) batting skills, but would occasionally bowl gentle medium pacers as well.

During Pakistan’s 1982 tour of England, he twice devastated the English batting line-up and ushered in the era of the batting all-rounder, who was more than handy with the ball as well.

During the second Test at Lords (in the 1982 series), he was brought in to bowl by Imran so he (Imran) could switch ends. But this followed …

Mudassar Nazar | Lords, 1982

Also, before Khan got the liberty of packing the Pakistan fast bowling attack with three highly talented pupils (Waqar, Wasim and Aaqib), he was sharing his reverse swing technique with Tahir Naqqash who had become a regular paceman in the Pakistan side since 1981.

Naqqash did get the grip of reverse swing for a bit, but he couldn’t maintain his form and his place was finally taken by Wasim Akram in 1985 …

Tahir Naqqash | Lord's, 1982

When Sarfraz and Imran were sharpening an art of bowling that a decade later would come down to be known as reverse swing, Pakistan cricket also re-introduced leg-break-googly bowling that had fallen out of favour in international cricket.

From the early 1970s, Australia, England and the West Indies had increasingly strengthened their fast bowling line-ups. By 1979, when Indian leg-break bowler, the unorthodox Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, lost form and place in the Indian side, leg-break bowling all but vanished from international cricket.

So when Imran Khan decided to add Abdul Qadir in the squad that was to play three Tests against England in 1982, he faced stiff resistance from the cricket board and the selectors.

Qadir had made his Test debut in 1977 but failed to become a regular part of the team.

He was lingering in oblivion when Khan picked him up for the England tour. Khan’s logic was that since not many batsmen were used to playing leg-break bowling anymore, Qadir could be used as a surprise factor.

He was right. Qadir not only impressed the English experts and put the England batsmen in all sorts of tangles, he even bamboozled the umpires as well who could not determine which way his ball would turn.

That is why a number of decisions went against him and he wasn’t able to pick up as many wickets as he should have …

Abdul Qadir | Lord's, 1982

Qadir became one of the main strike bowlers in the team and picked up a bundle of wickets between 1982 and 1988.

From 1989 onwards, he lost form and his place in the side but he had already managed to successfully revive the art of leg-break bowling in international cricket.

He also influenced a number of quality leg-break bowlers who followed him into the game and these included Shane Warne (Australia), Mushtaq Ahmed (Pakistan) and Anil Kumble (India).

Qadir once claimed that he could bowl six different deliveries in a single over, but his main weapons were the flipper and the googly (that turned appreciably and at times would come in off the wicket like a fast off-cutter) …

Abdul Qadir | Adelaide, 1984

Just as Sarfraz had tutored Imran in reversing swing bowling, Khan’s first successful pupil in this respect was left-arm fast bowler, Wasim Akram.

Though, Akram made his Test debut in 1985 under Javed Miadad, he was soon assumed by Imran under whom he developed into a lethal fast bowler.

By 1987, Akram had also mastered the art of reverse swing and for the next 15 years became one of its leading exponents.

Just like Imran, Akram’s main strike deliveries (with the old ball) were the in-swinging yorker and the ball that came in sharply off the wicket …

Wasim Akram | Brisbane, 1988

Wasim Akram | Melbourne, 1992

The arrival of Akram triggered a fast bowling revolution of sorts in Pakistan. A few years later he was followed by Saleem Jaffar, Aaqib Javed and Waqar Younis.

Out of these, Younis became Imran’s next best pupil of reverse swing bowling. He bowled quicker than Imran and was even faster than Akram, regularly clocking over 95 mph.

He, too, perfected the in-swinging yorker, hurled at tremendous speeds and which would actually pick up even more pace the moment it cut the air and dipped in.

No matter how old the ball was, Imran, Akram and Younis would use the fast in-dipping yorker that would beat the batsmen in the air irrespective of how the pitch was playing.

In the process, Waqar developed a swinging yorker that would zip in late with a lot of pace from the off stump line and end up hitting the leg stump! For a while, this delivery of his became known as ‘banana swing.’

Waqar Younis | Melbourne, 1995

Waqar Younis | Rawalpindi, 1997

Though Imran retired in 1992, Wasim and Waqar carried on delivering one magic spell of reverse swing bowling after another. As Aaqib and Saleem Jaffar fell away, the two Ws were soon joined by the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammed Akram and Mohammad Zahid.

All three had as much pace and venom as did the two Ws, but it was Akhtar and Zahid who would further expand the art and science of quick reverse swing bowling of which the Pakistanis had become masters.

With the new ball, Zahid (who made his Test debut in 1996) depended on bounce and speed, but he quickly learned the art of getting swing with the old ball and consequently was able to bowl the fast reverse swinging yorker …

Mohammad Zahid | Toronto, 1997

Unfortunately, Zahid was extremely injury-prone and could not fulfil his early promise. He could only represent Pakistan in five Tests and in a dozen or so ODIs before breaking down. When he returned to international cricket four years later, he had lost much of his pace and could not reverse the ball anymore. He faded away.

But Akhtar, though also injury-prone, managed to enjoy a longer and more glamorous cricket career. Faster than even Waqar Younis, Akhtar learned reverse swing bowling under Akram and then Waqar.

He made his Test debut in 1998 but made his first major splash in the third Test during Pakistan’s 1999 tour of India.

Managing to nudge out an out-of-form Waqar from the playing XI, Akhtar clean bowled India’s two leading batsmen, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, with consecutive deliveries.

Both the deliveries clocked over 95 mph, were bowled with an old ball and viciously reversed in to clean up the two stunned batsmen …

Shoaib Akhtar | Kolkata, 1999

Shoaib Akhtar | Kolkata, 1999

Akhtar, in spite of his many eccentricities and wild life-style, found himself as the team’s senior fast bowler when Wasim and Waqar retired from cricket in 2003.

By then, he had also clocked the fastest delivery ever recorded in international cricket (100.2 mph).

But with the fading away of the equally fast Mohammed Zahid and Mohammad Sami, Akhtar was missing an effective fast bowling partner until the arrival of Mohammad Asif in 2005.

Asif was not even half as fast as Akhtar. He was a bigger fan of quality swing bowlers such as Australia’s Glen McGrath and former Pakistani seamer, Sarfraz Nawaz.

Asif’s debut wasn’t all that impressive and for a while another swing bowler, Shabbir Ahmad was preferred over him. Asif first concentrated on getting swing and seam from the new ball.

After he had successfully developed this, he began to concentrate on getting a grip of the art of reverse swing bowling. Since he did not have the kind of speed bowlers such as Imran, Wasim, Waqar and Wasim had, Asif was briefly coached by Sarfraz Nawaz who taught him to get reverse swing and seam off the wicket.

Asif demonstrated how well he was capable of getting conventional new-ball ball swing and then reverse swing (with the old ball), when he cleaned up India’s top four batsmen (in the second innings) during the third Test match in Karachi (2006 Pak-India series) …

Mohammad Asif | Karachi, 2006

After inventing the reverse swing and reintroducing leg-break bowling in international cricket, Pakistan cricket went on to formulate yet another unorthodox delivery: The doosra.

Just as reverse swing, this ball’s name also came years after it was first invented. But unlike the reverse swing, this name was coined by its main inventor: Saqlain Mushtaq.

Saqlain was inducted into the team by Wasim Akram in 1995.

By 1996, he was bowling a delivery that was technically supposed to come in as an off-break (to a right handed batsman), but instead would straighten up and then go the other way.

It would confuse the batsmen because it was always bowled without much change being applied to the bowling action. Between 1996 and 2002, only Saqlain was bowling it and it was simply called his ‘mystery ball.’

Just before the start of the 2003 World Cup, Saqlain finally decided to give it a name: The doosra (or the other one) …

Saqlain Mushtaq | Trent Bridge, 2001

Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan became a master of the doosra after the fading away of Saqlain and so did India’s Harbahjan Singh. But perhaps the ball’s most sublime, ‘scientific’ and tricky exponent has been Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal.

Ajmal was already in his early 30s when he was inducted into the Pakistan side in 2008. But it wasn’t until his best friend, Misbah-ul-Haq, became Pakistan’s captain (in 2011), that Ajmal became a regular fixture in the Pakistan team across all formats of the game.

By 2012, Ajmal was bowling the doosra so well and so confidently that he even went on to claim that he had invented a ‘teesra’ (the third one)!

There was no teesra. It was just Ajmal trying to bowl his doosra with a different action, pace and angle.

Today, he remains to be perhaps the finest exponents of the doosra, turning it from an art into a fascinating science …

Saeed Ajmal | Kennington Oval, 2010



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