West Indies bowling great Curtly Ambrose has termed Pakistan's pace bowling legend Wasim Akram as one of his “all-time favourites”, adding that the left-armer, who turned 49 today, could do ‘unimaginable’ things with the ball.
In a tribute fit for the genius that Akram was, the Pakistan great was ramped up for special praise by Ambrose in the back drop of the launch of his autobiography ‘Time to Talk’,
“Wasim Akram is one of my all-time favourite bowlers and any team that I would select comprising of the world’s best cricketers, Wasim Akram has to be in it. I’ve seen Wasim Akram do things with a cricket ball that people like me and others cannot really do. He was such a great bowler and I have a lot of admiration and respect for him.”
Akram, who played 104 Test and 356 ODIs for Pakistan, picking up a stunning haul of 414 and 502 wickets respectively, received an outpouring of respect and wishes from fellow cricketers and international cricket boards on his birthday.
The charismatic all-rounder said it had been a roller-coaster 49 years for him.
“It's been 49 years of ups and downs but I thank god for my life and the people who have loved and supported me throughout. Thank you all,” Akram said.
Former teammate and opening batsmen Ramiz Raja reserved special praise for Akram who was signed on as 'icon' cricketer for the Masters Champions League T20 along with Brian Lara, Adam Gilchrist and Jacques Kallis in UAE on Wednesday.
“He was the Sultan of Swing. One of the most dangerous bowlers; the bigger the game bigger the game-changer.”
On the occasion of Akram's 49th birthday here are some of the most memorable quotes on the left-arm magician from Lahore:
Former England captain and wicket keeper, Alec Stewart:
Wasim was a genius with the new and old ball. Just like his partner in crime Waqar Younis, whether you were on nought or 150 he had the ability to bowl a ball that could get you out. There have not been many quicker bowlers than Wasim Akram. He had a dangerous bouncer, was a great competitor and could score handy runs down the order.
Former Indian captain and all-rounder, Kapil Dev:
Wasim Akram is the best seam bowler of all times.
Former South Africa all-rounder, Jacques Kallis:
In my opinion Wasim Akram of Pakistan was the best pace bowler that I ever faced. Being able to swing the ball both ways with pace made him the most dangerous bowler.
Former West Indian batting great, Brian Lara:
Oh, he was fast and furious. He bowled over and round the wicket, swung the ball both ways, a master of reverse swing and moreover at times he cut the ball prodigiously. His bouncers were fast and slow too and very aggressive when in full flow and very competitive as well. I never felt in control when facing Wasim because he was always very unpredictable.
Former Sri Lanka captain and batting great, Mahela Jayawardene:
Wasim Akram was a handful when I came in. In my teens, I was a bunny against him.
Former South Africa fast bowler, Allan Donald:
The most complete fast bowler I've seen.
England all-rounder Ian Botham on Akram's 1992 heroics:
The one player who really stood out for me was Wasim Akram. It was in that tournament that we realised just what a special talent he was and how much trouble he was going to give us and the rest of the world in the years to come.
Rolling back the years with excerpts from an exclusive Wasim Akram interview with Dawn:
Did tape-ball cricket have a part to play in your early days in the game?
I played a lot of tape-ball cricket, in addition to the plain tennis ball. I remember six-a-side (competitions) had just started in Lahore, in around 1983, when I was living with my grandmother in androon (inner) Lahore. At 15, I was a tape-ball ‘professional’ and would take ten rupees per game to win matches for different teams.
It was only after 1983 that I started playing with a cricket ball. Before that, everywhere I played, sarkoun pay, chhatoun pay ya school mein (be it on the roads, roof-tops or in school), it was with the tennis ball. In Ramazan, of course, we used to have a tournament every night.
You had a small bustling run-up, not common with fast bowlers at the time. How did you come up with that?
If I recall correctly, it was during the 1987 tour of England that I shortened my run-up after Imran told me to give it a go. “You will be able to play longer,” he said. But I was worried about my pace.
So Imran bhai took me along and measured out a run up. I ran in (from his mark) and bowled at the same pace.
Afterwards, he told me: “If you can bowl at the same speed with a shorter run-up, why run such a long distance?” And he was, obviously, right.
Imran always stood at mid-on, whispering in your ear. Tell us about that and if you can recall specific instances following or not following his advice.
I always followed his advice because I needed somebody to guide me, give me confidence for the ball I was about to bowl…aur Imran say behtar to koi bowler tha hi nahi confidence bharanay kai liyay (and there was no better bowler than Imran when you needed a confidence boost).
With the new ball, we usually talked about bringing the ball in and with the old ball, he told me to change it up. Bring it in sometimes, then take it out, bowl a bouncer, and so on…
Did you ever think or do it any different than what Imran told you?
No. Never…because he was Imran Khan. By ’89, having played a few (English) county seasons, I had polished my game and knew what I was doing.
It was the same with Waqar. We usually stood at mid-off or mid-on when the other was bowling. We were constantly talking to each other and we also had several arguments but we still talked. What to do, what not to do…
It is very important for young and experienced fast bowlers to talk. You only have to look at the Indian bowlers (in Australia) to realise it. They get hit around, they are lost, but nobody talks to them. At least I had people telling me what fields to set.
You have said that you considered Sir Viv to be the greatest batsman you have bowled to. What was it like to face him as a bowler?
Viv was a different breed. It wasn’t just his batting, it was his aura. Over six feet tall; itnay itnay (these huge) muscles; no sign of any protection; forget arm or chest guards, not even a helmet. So that whole aura was intimidating for a young skinny bowler that I was back then.
However, I still got his wickets a few times. That, I should admit, was also because his greatest days were behind him. I am glad I faced him then and not earlier.
Pace is everything for a fast bowler, but there comes a time when you start losing it. When did it happen to you and what were your feelings at the time? Was there a sense of denial?
No denial for me. After 1997, I realised that I had lost a bit of pace. I was always nippy, but I had mastered the art of swing by then. See, there is no room for denial. One should know and admit it. There is a lot more to fast bowling than just pace.
Tell us how you and Waqar defended that 125-run total against New Zealand in 1992-93?
It was a long time ago, but we had decided that gaind haath say chorna nahi ha (we weren’t going to let go of the ball) because if we did, the match was gone.
Two deliveries: One, to Dravid in Chennai, where you take the top of off after a loud lbw shout was turned down; the other to Robert Croft in England, where it defies physics and hits him in front only to be turned down. Both have created quite a furore on YouTube amongst your fans. Can you tell us a bit about them?
I remember them both reverse swinging. With Croft, I went around the wicket and bowled with a lot of energy. I bowled really fast on the Oval pitch. This was in 1996. Someone gave me a picture of Alec Stewart ducking my delivery, with both his feet airborne and over the wickets, as he is sways out of the way.
With Dravid, I brought two balls into him earlier. In this day and age, he would have been given out but not then. Before it happened, I had worked on bringing it in and then I said: ab main iski laat say bahar nikaalta hoon (I will bring it out from his leg) and that is what I did. It happened exactly how I had visualised it: where I would pitch the ball and what result it would produce.
If you could change your career with any other bowler, who would it be?
Not Imran Khan?
No. As a bowler Marshall, as a leader Imran Khan, of course.