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Where have all the Pakistan fast bowlers gone?

October 16, 2012

mohammad zahid, muhammad zahid, shoaib akhtar, junaid khan, wasim akram, waqar younis, imran khan, pakistani fast bowlers, pakistan fast bowlers, fast bowling
The lack of role models in Pakistan cricket, particularly for the upcoming fast bowlers, is a concern but not a valid excuse. -Photo by AFP

In his column for Pakpassion.net, former Pakistan fast bowler, Mohammad Zahid examines the one question that is on the minds of numerous Pakistani fans: where have the fast men gone?

Pakistan is a proud cricketing nation and over the years our pride has been the number of high quality fast bowlers we have been able to produce. The list is a long one, a famous one and one full of names that just flow from the lips of cricket lovers around the world. When I say fast bowlers, I don’t mean your medium fast bowlers or your dibbly dobbly medium pacers, what I am talking about are your out and out 90mph plus bowlers whose strength is raw pace. Our cricketing reputation is one that is based upon producing the best fast bowlers in the world and that reputation is in trouble.

It pains me to admit this but over the course of the years, our fast bowling resources have gone from being our strength, to now being our weakness. I watched the World T20 with interest and watched our fast bowlers struggle match after match, resulting in the captain only entrusting the fast bowlers with a couple of overs per match. However, it’s not just about the twenty over format that my concerns are based upon. In all formats of cricket our fast bowling resources have almost completely dried up and it concerns me to see the same mediocre bowlers being given chance after chance for Pakistan, instead of fresh and young blood being introduced.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the likes of Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman and Raza Hasan, as all three in my mind are excellent bowlers and have wonderful variety, but Pakistan’s over reliance on spin is becoming a huge concern.

I don’t for a moment believe that there are no young fast bowlers in Pakistan, that is simply not possible. Why they aren’t making their way to international cricket is the question to ponder upon? What is happening to these fast bowlers once they start playing U19 and junior cricket and why are so few of them performing to their optimum ability and making it to first class cricket and then onto international cricket? Why are so many of these boys disappearing down this “black hole”?

Fast bowling in Pakistan needs a revival, it needs a kick start, there needs to be a rethink and a reassessment of coaching methods and also the issue of the scouting network needs to be re-examined. I am certain that fast bowlers are not coming through the ranks in the numbers that they should be coming through and how they used to in the past. In my days when I was playing first class cricket, every team had at least a couple of tearaway fast bowlers, nowadays you will be lucky to find a couple in the whole of the first class system. Where is this talent disappearing and why is not being picked up by the regional selectors? There has to be a proper scouting network set up by the PCB to identify young talent from schools and ensure that talent is then nurtured through to U19 and onwards. At the moment far too many quick bowlers are missing the boat and not being identified by the scouts and coaches around Pakistan.

I don’t trust this “talent hunt” system that the PCB is throwing all its energy into. There were talents hunts in the past too and very rarely did any one come through it. What they should be doing is sending their scouts and coaches all over Pakistan to watch school cricket, and identifying the talent at a young age and then ensuring that talent is monitored regularly, coached properly and made part of the PCB database. Too often young cricketers are just being lost to a system which is outdated and based on luck and also based upon ex players stumbling across exceptional cricketers by chance.

Pace is an asset as a bowler, if you have pace you can learn the technical aspects later as when you start playing U19 and first class cricket. Most of our great fast bowlers were raw when they started, but they had pace. I don’t understand where the young fast bowlers in Pakistan are being sent today and why they are not appearing in first class matches.

The dearth of quick bowlers needs to be addressed by the Pakistani think tank. We cannot rely on medium pacers, especially in Tests and we also cannot keep persisting with bowlers like Mohammad Sami who are quick but have absolutely no control. It’s actually embarrassing that as a cricketing nation we did not have one single reliable out and out fast bowler recently in Sri Lanka.

Looking ahead, I’ve seen a couple of young fast bowlers who I believe have the potential to serve Pakistan well. The one I feel is ready for international cricket is Rahat Ali. Rahat needs some opportunities and I think it was disgraceful the way he was excluded after just one international match where he only bowled four overs. There is another left-arm pace bowler who I was very impressed with at the U19 World Cup and that is Zia-ul-Haq. I think he should be ready to play for Pakistan sooner rather than later. Both of these bowlers have pace and with some slight adjustments and hard work they could be exactly what Pakistan is lacking at the moment.

I think the selectors made a huge mistake by picking Sami for the World T20 and keeping him on the bench for the entire tournament. What was the point of taking Sami along? He has been handed countless chances for Pakistan and has failed to impress or improve. If the selectors wanted to take someone to carry the drinks and experience a high profile tournament, then Zia-ul-Haq or Rahat Ali could have been better options.

You do not become a great bowler overnight, you need exposure, you need to be part of a squad, you need to be involved, you need to learn and watch other good bowlers. If the selectors really had picked players on ability and form then Junaid Khan should have been selected for the World T20. To leave Junaid back in Pakistan for the World T20 was a travesty.

The lack of role models in Pakistan cricket particularly for the upcoming fast bowlers is a concern but not a valid excuse. For spinners you have Saeed Ajmal, for Test batsmen you have the likes of Misbah-ul-Haq, but there is no focal point, no role model for Pakistani bowlers at the moment like there were in the years gone by. That is not an excuse either as there are other great bowlers around the world like Dale Steyn who our boys can watch and learn from.

Pakistan’s new bowling coach Mohammad Akram has a huge task ahead of him, a very important task also. He needs to have some clear objectives and I certainly hope he gets his “hands dirty” and works with bowlers in domestic cricket, bowlers at U19 level and even younger. Akram has a lot of experience of playing cricket around the world and has been taught by some very good coaches. I hope he makes good use of that experience and passes it on particularly to the upcoming talent in Pakistan. Akram needs to be the catalyst for the revival of fast bowling in Pakistan, he needs to be the one who drives it forward with help from the PCB. He needs to be working with and developing bowlers at all levels and it needs to be a long term plan.

Moving onto the selectors, I feel in Pakistan there is a quota system in place at the moment. What I mean by  ‘quota system’ is that the selection committee picks players to keep all of the regions happy. You cannot be the best side in the world if your selectors are adopting this approach. If you want to be the best you have to select players on merit, not based on a cross section of the regions. If it means that there are no players from some regions, then so be it. If it means that some regions have more players than others, then so be it. Pick the best players, don’t pick players to keep influential individuals in Pakistani cricket happy.