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That Wahab spell — A nation's faith in pace restored

Updated March 24, 2015

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The sudden shift in emotion towards Wahab reveals a lot about the psyche of the nation. — Photo by Reuters
The sudden shift in emotion towards Wahab reveals a lot about the psyche of the nation. — Photo by Reuters

145kph, 150kph, 147kph. Wahab Riaz to Shane Watson — six overs of the most compelling cricket of the season and a nation's faith in pace restored.

It had to be compelling, for it had the cricket world buzzing in the days that followed Pakistan's loss to Australia and its exit from the World Cup. For a moment in a match, that too in a losing cause, to have such an impact is quite something. It may be that in the world of LED stumps and boundary line pyrotechnics, Wahab's spell almost had a red-ball flavour to it, before that little red thing became very, very submissive to the bat. It was Test cricket played in colours and there was something about the soul of those six overs which continues to reverberate.

West Indies' batting genius Brian Lara was so taken by Wahab's bowling he couldn't wait to meet the Pakistani quick.

"I want to meet with this Riaz guy," Lara said, adding that he would pay the fine imposed on Wahab by the ICC for his verbals at Watson.

Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting termed the Wahab-Watson duel in the quarter-final as "cricket at its absolute best".

But the reaction to Wahab's extraordinary effort in Pakistan was quite interesting.

Just months prior to the World Cup, Misbah-ul-Haq came under constant fire for fielding, what many experts termed, a 'confused' team combination. Fans mocked the captain for picking Wahab as the 'allrounder' in the side, the 29-year-old's ability with the bat deemed too shoddy and his bowling too wayward for him to keep that spot. The 'jacket' too came up in discussions a few times.

Critics, however, all agreed on the fact that 'Viki' did not leave anything in the tank when he took the field.

Two wickets and an astonishing 36 deliveries later, though, Wahab is being touted as Pakistan's next ODI captain.

"What I saw of him (Wahab) against Australia convinces me that he's got it in him to make it big as a leader because he showed aggression, passion and emotion; that is what is required right now to put Pakistan cricket back on track," former captain Ramiz Raja said after the quarter-final.

In a poll conducted by Dawn, 2,948 out of a total 9,147 respondents voted for Wahab to take over as the next ODI captain. Sarfraz Ahmed, with 2,238 votes, was the second choice.

Considering the overwhelming support Sarfraz received throughout the World Cup, for Wahab to take the cake in a matter of six overs is an achievement, one would think. But if Meghan Trainor were a Pakistan fan, she would tell you in no clear terms: 'It's all about that pace, all about that pace, all about that pace'.

The sudden shift in emotion towards the Lahore pacer reveals a lot about the psyche of the nation. Fast bowling is a value that cricket followers in the country hold dear and no amount of 'mystery spin' compares to it.

The ability to intimidate and pepper the body from a length, at speed; to leave the stumps spread-eagled and have the wit to deliver a parting shot at the batsman; all seem very inherent. Perhaps it comes from playing the 'formative cricket' on the streets, where its six or out. But when you get Fazal Mahmood, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram. Waqar Younis, Mohammad Zahid, Shoaib Akhtar one after the other, it's hard for it to not turn into a culture.

Wahab simply showed a glimpse of that lifestyle.

Whether he has the ability to captain the side is a matter of debate – one that should be devoid of emotion. He has 77 wickets from 54 ODIs at an average of 30.20 after all. But for the fans, he's got that feeling back. The absence of Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez and an off-colour Shahid Afridi gave Pakistan the opportunity to attack with their traditional strength. And it only seemed natural when it came off.

With Ajmal, Hafeez and Afridi, Pakistan's strategy was more of a 'stifle' than an assault. Often, Misbah employed very defensive fields to make that strategy work and the pacers played supporting roles. But the 40-year-old's hand was forced at the World Cup and at the end of the Pakistan's campaign, he seemed pleasantly surprised at the results he could produce by unleashing the fast men.

As Misbah and Afridi bid farewell and with Ajmal and Hafeez on the sidelines currently, the dynamics of a 'new team' could certainly be interesting. With the team's belief in pace reaffirmed, it would certainly make for exciting times for the Pakistan fan.

Now only if they could do something about the batsmen.